Tag Archives: agnostic

Advice for real skeptics and authentic seekers

Everyone should consider matters of eternity very carefully, because eternity matters.

I used to be a skeptic.  I’ve gone to church most of my life, but let’s just say I wasn’t paying very close attention for the first 28 years or so.  At all.  I couldn’t have told you anything about the Bible. Even then the church I attended was a lousy Joel Osteen-wannabe type church — nothing but messages about “God’s unconditional love,” with no scriptural analysis.  I learned nearly everything of importance about the faith outside of church.  My hope is that the rest of you are in churches where you can learn and grow.

My path to Christianity wasn’t linear, but there were many things along the way that I recommend to real skeptics and authentic seekers (hereafter referred to simply as skeptics and seekers).  I hope you will consider using some of these on your search.

(I wrote real skeptics because many self-proclaimed skeptics across aren’t skeptical at all.  They have a position and work aggressively to advance it.  I respect their freedom to do that but it would be an abuse of the word to say they are skeptical.  And I mean authentic seekers in the sense that they are seeking God on his terms and not in some immature fantasy world where they think they get to invent their own god or just pick the religion they like best — and that the real God will consider that to be acceptable.)

Read/study the Bible – This may sound obvious, but far too many people ignore it.  I come across very few people who have read the whole Bible and/or read it regularly, and that includes the countless Christians I know.  Everyone should read it carefully and often.  Jesus didn’t call it “bread” for nothing.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t miss too many meals of real food.  I eat at least 5 times per day (My motto: “Second breakfast – the third most important meal of the day!”).  I work hard to read at least some of the Bible every day.  I’m currently doing a “read the Bible in a year” plan, which is roughly three chapters a day, plus I listen to various Podcasts that go into detail on the scriptures.

Christians should read it to spend time with God, strengthen their faith and educate themselves to help others know the truth.  Skeptics should read it to have a better idea of what they are criticizing.  Some do, but I find that most critics of Christianity make no efforts to do that.   They just repeat out-of context passages (“Don’t judge!”).  Seekers should read it because Christianity is a logical starting point in the search for God.

The Bible makes many claims about itself and its power.  It quotes God directly over 3,000 times and states that He inspired all the writings it contains.  It claims that it has the power to save and transform you.  It has made an immeasurable impact on the world.  Those things aren’t what make it true, but they are good reasons for any skeptic / seeker to read it carefully.

If you want to know someone, you spend time with them.  Reading the Bible (and praying) is spending time with God.  Read it carefully and get to know Jesus.  Then decide if you think He is trustworthy and if He should be the Lord of your life.

The Bible Fast Forward is a great audio resource that ties together the major themes of the Bible.  I highly recommend it for anyone at any stage of their journey.

Pray – Tell God that if He is real that you truly want to know him on his terms.

Self reflection — In your quiet, honest moments, ask yourself if you think you need forgiveness.

Examine your motives.  There are typically three reasons at the root of unbelief.  Which are yours?  If you want to deceive others that is bad enough.  But don’t deceive yourself.

1. Rational / intellectual – Have people gathered enough information to believe?  Have they investigated the facts and logic behind the faith?  Are they using reasonable criteria (i.e., adequate evidence versus absolute proof)?

2. Emotional – People may have had bad experiences with church and/or Christians.  Some people would have very serious consequences from converting (rejection or even persecution from friends, family or society).  People may not want to give up favorite sins.  These may be difficult but are nothing that should get in the way of your eternal salvation.

3. Volitional, or that of the will – Plain old rebellion.  People have seen the facts but use items from the first two categories as excuses.  Spending eternity in Hell because of pride = really bad idea.

Podcasts / websites / Facebook groups – There are countless sites out there, but here are the ones I’ve used the most.  The links go to the main sites, but you can search for those names in iTunes to get the Podcasts.  These will address most common objections.

Stand to Reason – My all-time favorite.  An amazing mix of facts, ways to think clearly and techniques to share the truth in an effective way.

Please Convince Me – Hosted by a cold-case homicide detective who is a former atheist, he is very thorough and analytical in explaining the reasons for our faith and addressing objections.

CARM (Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry) – A great site for information on just about any Christian topic or world religion.  Very easy to navigate.

Grace to You – John MacArthur gives terrific verse-by-verse sermons.  He reads countless commentaries and the original languages to prepare each one.

Debates – some people don’t see the value in debates, because it is more like a sporting event where each side is just rooting for their team and against the opposition.  Few minds seem to be changed.  But I think debates have merit.  For a skeptic or seeker it is important to hear both sides in their own words.  I find apologetic works to be very useful because over time I have learned which apologists to trust.  If someone just sets up straw men to knock down, then that isn’t productive.  You may get a temporary boost in confidence for your views but will get creamed when you use those in the real world.

The best sources I’ve seen for debate are the Wintery Knight blog and Apologetics 3:15, where you can get countless videos and transcripts of debates.

Science

There are some things you should never forget about Darwinian evolution.  While this worldview has had a monopoly position in education, media and government for many decades, there is a reason most people still don’t believe it.  Despite what its proponents may tell you about how the theory lets you be an intellectually satisfied atheist, Darwinian evolution has many issues and major theories about it continue to change.  Their views from just a few years ago about “junk” DNA should haunt Darwinists and Theistic Evolutionists alike.

But remember that even if Darwinian evolution was completely true, it would:

  • not explain the origin of the universe (they have to resort to un-scientific stories  like the “multiverse” theory to rationalize away the amazing design in the universe).
  • not explain how life came from non-life.  Despite decades of efforts, they have no idea how to prove how life might have come from non-life, though in their blind faith they persist.
  • be 100.00% responsible for the faith of Christians in the evidence for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus (what else could have created these beliefs?).
  • be unable to ground true universal morality.   They have a thing they call morality, but they are really just running off the fumes of Christianity and the fact that God wrote his laws on our hearts.  But real, universal morality in a Darwinian worldview is merely an illusion.  If those in power decide what is right, then it isn’t transcendently right.  It is just a power play.   That doesn’t mean atheists can’t do things we consider to be moral.  Some atheists are pro-life, for example.  It just means they have no philosophical grounding for morality.
Here are a couple great books to help balance out all the Darwinian propaganda you’ve been force-fed your whole life.

Signature in the Cell – DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design – this book is a little complex for the average reader but very important for those who want to know more about what Intelligent Design is really about.

There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind by Antony Flew – one of the most famous philosophical atheists eventually became a theist based on the evidence for design in the universe.  Sadly, I don’t think he became a Christian before he died.

The big picture — Consider a two-step approach (though you may do this in parallel):

  1. Is there a God?  Examine the information from teleology (design), cosmology, morality, etc.  And meditate closely on this passage: Romans 1:18-20 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
  2. Is Christianity true?  Consider the “minimal facts” approach.  Christianity is a faith based on reason and evidence, not “blind faith.”

If you are a real skeptic / authentic seeker, I highly encourage you to learn enough about Jesus to decide whether you want to put your trust in him.  Deep down you know you are a sinner and will one day die and face God to be judged based on this life.  You can stand alone and take the punishment for your sins, or you can trust in the sacrifice Jesus made.  If you trust in him, all your sins are transferred from his account and all his perfect righteousness is transferred to yours.  It is literally the ultimate deal – and it is free.  You can’t buy it or earn it.

Remember, “doubting Thomas” (who got a bad rap, by the way) was shown the evidence and he made the proper response of belief.  You may not see Jesus face to face as evidence, but there is more than enough evidence for you if you really want to know the truth.

Ultimately, you can trust in yourself or you can trust in Jesus . . . and eternity is a mighty long time to regret a prideful decision.

World religions & evangelism videos

I came across this post from a couple years ago and thought I’d re-run it.  This is one of my favorite topics to teach, although I prefer not having to cram it all into one hour!  It works better as a 6-8 week series where you can go more in-depth.

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pluralism.jpg

I did a one hour presentation on world religions for a church group and decided to video tape it as an experiment.  I was pleased with the content of the presentation but learned some things about lighting, sound and pace.  That will make the next one much better. I was hoping it would be shorter but it is hard to cover all world religions and some evangelism basics in one easy session.

I covered some foundational concepts that apply to all religions then addressed some key differences of Christianity versus Islam, Mormonism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Hare Krishnas, Wiccans and atheists (OK, that’s more of a world non-religion).

I shared experiences I’ve had in witnessing to people in these faiths and some things that helped navigate through conversations effectively.  You really can share the truth without starting a Jihad.

Go here to just see the PowerPoint slides.

Major thanks to Stand to Reason, where I learned much of this.

Some quick Christian Q&A

Some youth at church submitted these questions to be discussed at youth group and I was asked to weigh in.  Each could result in a lengthy blog post so I tried to provide just a few bullets.  You are welcome to offer what your pithy responses would be!

1. How am I supposed to spread the word to my friends? Most of them are very smart Atheists.

· That is great that he/she wants to spread the word.  Atheists can be a big challenge.

· Use diagnostic questions to see if they are really interested in a conversation or are just wanting to spout one objection after another from the “Big Book O’ Atheist Sound Bites” (not a real book, just an illustration I use to describe the behavior of people who have no interest in pursuing the truth).  If they don’t want to learn more, heed Matthew 7:6 (ESV) “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.”  You are under no obligation to share the Good News with people who are continually hostile to it.  Just pray for them and perhaps try again another time.

· If they are interested in real discussions, then answer what you can but never fake it.  If you get stumped, admit it and tell them you’ll get back to them.  Seven important words: “I don’t know, but I’ll find out.”  Then go ask one of us or look it up online and get back with them.  You’ll learn and strengthen your faith in the process.

· Just because they are smart doesn’t mean they are wise.  J. Budziszewski, former atheist and UT Philosophy professor says it well: “Though it always comes as a surprise to intellectuals, there are some forms of stupidity that you must be highly intelligent and educated to commit. God keeps them in His arsenal to pull down mulish pride, and I discovered them all.”

· At its core the atheist worldview is ridiculous (though I wouldn’t put it that way to them right away): They have zero evidence for how the universe came into existence.  They have zero evidence for how life came from non-life.  They have distorted one part (Darwinian evolution) out of one branch (biology) out of the dozens of branches of science and they pretend that we are anti-science.

· All people, including atheists, rely on all kinds of non-scientific evidence everyday – historical, eye witness, etc.  We have lots of evidence for our views.  For example, consider these “minimal facts” agreed to by virtually all historians (Christian or not) of the biblical time period.

Summary of the “minimal facts” approach: Nearly 100% of historical scholars from 1975 – present agree with the following statements (more here — http://tinyurl.com/ykzpu42).  I submit that the physical resurrection of Jesus best accounts for these facts.

o Jesus really lived and was killed on a Roman cross.

o Jesus’ disciples believed He appeared to them.

o Jesus’ brother, James, went from being a pre-crucifixion skeptic to a post-crucifixion church leader.

o The Apostle Paul believed Jesus appeared to him and he wrote most of the books attributed to him, including Romans, I & II Corinthians, Philemon and others.

o 75% of the same scholars agree that the tomb was empty.

2. Why do we have bible study?

· What else would we do?  Entertainment, fellowship and service are important, but the word of God is our foundation.

· Parents have the primary responsibility for their children’s Christian education, but the church now has a role.  Check out the recent articles on religious surveys. It is embarrassing how little professing Christians know about the Bible.  We make lousy witnesses when atheists know more about the Bible than we do.

· More importantly, the Bible is the primary way God speaks to us.  It contains every important spiritual truth.  If you aren’t reading it you aren’t growing.

3. How do you go about bringing up religion to other people? No one really ever wants to listen to people talk about it at school.

· Try using “faith flags,” such as comments about church or church activities.  If people show any interest it might lead to further discussions.

· Be a good listener.  Ask about their religious views.  You may hear all sorts of bizarre things.  Don’t pretend that false views are true, but make it a conversation and not a bludgeoning.

· Pray that God will show you where He is working in the lives of others and where you can fit in.

4. Is it wrong to evangelize if you believe in the things that make your faith, but are having rough times in your life?

· Great question.  If we wait to evangelize until we have everything working perfectly then we’ll never evangelize.  Being authentic about your struggles and how your faith impacts them can be a good witness.

· At the other end of the spectrum, you can’t live a careless lifestyle and expect people to take you seriously as a Christian.

5. If people are “going with the crowd” towards a bad thing, how do you lead them on the right path?

· Try to find others who agree with you (safety in numbers).

· Set a good example by not going along with the bad thing.

· Ask questions.  Why are they doing it?

6. How do you handle Christians who don’t act so ‘Christ-like” towards you?

· Most of the time, shrug it off and give the person the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe they are having a bad day.

· If it is a little more serious, pray about it and them.

· If it is somewhat or very serious, get other Christians involved (see Matthew 18 – Jesus anticipated this problem and gave guidance).

7. Why do bad things happen for no reason? i understand that obstacles are put in front of us to see if we can get through and to test our strength but sometimes i feel it’s just too much too handle, and it wont end. How is it that God will forgive us all for our sins, but some ppl will choose to do wrong and God will forgive them of everything in the end, while other that do right get nothing but the same in the end. Pretty much how is it that bad ppl and good ppl are both given forgiveness when the bad ppl have done so much more wrong.

· Jesus promised problems for believers: John 16:33 (ESV)I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

· We’re all “bad people” in the sense that we sin against God.  Some people are better fakes than others.

· God only forgives those who repent and believe, so not everyone is ultimately forgiven.

· Don’t begrudge God for offering more grace to others — See Matthew 20:1-16.  We should rejoice that He offers us grace at all.

Humanists raise funds for good cause!

And the good cause is to tell everyone how good they are! 

I have no objection to them spending their own money to advance their worldview via their sign campaigns:

No God? …No Problem!

Be good for goodness’ sake.

Humanism is the ideas that you can be good without a belief in God.

I just see some inconsistencies.  What is their standard for good?  No lawgiver = no laws. 

And their premise is made of straw.  As Christians we know why they can do “good” — God’s moral laws are written on their heart.  You can do good by their definition even if you suppress the truth about God in unrighteousness.  I know lots of “good” atheists (by their definition, not God’s). 

Telling others how good you are probably isn’t one of those acts that goes in the “good” column.

According to an April 14, 2008 AD Barna study entitled, “New Study Shows Trends in Tithing and Donating”; in 2007 AD evangelicals Christians (one of three subgroups of Christians under consideration) donated a mean of $4,260 to all non-profit entities while atheists and agnostics provided an average of $467.

According to an April 25, 2005 AD Barna study entitled, “Americans Donate Billions to Charity, But Giving to Churches Has Declined”;

“In 2004…Barna’s national study found that the people least likely to donate any money at all were…atheists and agnostics…A quarter or more…failed to give away any money in 2004.”

Keep donating money for billboards and bus ads. We will feed, clothe and house the poor.

I know that some of the money donated by Christians goes to their churches, so one could claim that they benefit.  But the gaps there are huge.  And they get bigger when you compare Bible-believing Christians to others who check the Christian box.

Roundup

One type of finch evolves into a slightly different type of finch — Just a few more cycles and it will evolve into Angelina Jolie, or something along those lines.  Golly, I guess that proves macro-evolution once and for all.  My bad.  I’ve been wrong all along.

12 Rules To Govern And Live By For Destroying An Economy And A Nation — Great list by Dan.  If I didn’t know better I’d think a certain nation was dutifully following them all.

Great analysis of Bart Ehrman’s ironic and contradictory thinking

In the end, Jesus Interrupted can be best summarized as a book filled with ironies. Ironic that it purports to be about unbiased history but rarely presents an opposing viewpoint; ironic that it claims to follow the scholarly consensus but breaks from it so often; ironic that it insists on the historical-critical method but then reads the gospels with a modernist, overly-literal hermeneutic; ironic that it claims no one view of early Christianity could be “right” (Walter Bauer) but then proceeds to tell us which view of early Christianity is “right;” ironic that it dismisses Papias with a wave of the hand but presents the Gospel of the Ebionites as if it were equal to the canonical four; and ironic that it declares everyone can “pick and choose” what is right for them, but then offers its own litany of moral absolutes. Such intellectual schizophrenia suggests there is more going on in Jesus Interrupted than meets the eye. Though veiled in the garb of scholarship, this book is religious at the core. Ehrman does not so much offer history as he does theology, not so much academics as he does his own ideology. The reader does not get a post-religious Ehrman as expected, but simply gets a new-religious Ehrman–an author who has traded in one religious system (Christianity) for another (postmodern agnosticism). Thus, Ehrman is not out to squash religion as so many might suppose. He is simply out to promote his own. He is preacher turned scholar turned preacher. And of all the ironies, perhaps that is the greatest.

Hat tip: Alpha & Omega Ministries

Hungry Americans: Debunking The Hype — How many hungry are there?  What are the real problems?  Also see where Dinesh D’Souza has interesting reflections on this:

This book, some of his articles, and many of his speeches make the following point: “Indeed, newcomers to the United States are struck by the amenities enjoyed by poor people. This fact was dramatized in the 1980s when CBS television broadcast a documentary, People Like Us, intended to show the miseries of the poor during an ongoing recession. The Soviet Union also broadcast the documentary, with a view to embarrassing the Reagan administration. But by the testimony of former Soviet leaders, it had the opposite effect. Ordinary people across the Soviet Union saw that the poorest Americans have TV sets, microwave ovens and cars. They arrived at the same perception that I witnessed in an acquaintance of mine from Bombay who has been unsuccessfully trying to move to the United States. I asked him, Why are you so eager to come to America? He replied, I really want to live in a country where the poor people are fat. Dinesh D’Souza

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence?

Carl Sagan famously uttered the title, sans question mark.  I’d say he is in the right direction, as a corollary to Ockham’s Razor.  Things that are especially unusual or impactful deserve more scrutiny.

But I prefer Greg Koukl’s take, which is that extraordinary claims require adequate evidence or justification.  Just because the Bible makes claims of miracles doesn’t mean God needs to perform one for you on demand. 

I’m glad to stack up the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus — even just the parts that almost all historians agree with — against the atheistic theories about the creation of the universe and how life came from non-life.  Those are wildly extraordinary claims that go begging in search of evidence.  They not only don’t have extraordinary evidence, they have no evidence at all — just atheistic presuppositions. 

Sadly, it appears that Carl ignored the evidence for God:

Romans 1:18-20 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

So if anyone quotes the title to you, be sure to point out who has the best evidence for their extraordinary claims. 

More information

Could life have emerged spontaneously on the early Earth?  Short answer: No.  But that doesn’t stop some from believing it.

Does God exist? Is there any scientific evidence to prove that God exists?   Yes and yes.  We not only have scientific evidence, but logical, historical, moral and more.

Christmas, Humanists and being “good”

humanist-bus2Some Humanists launched a Why believe in a god? ad campaign on Washington, D.C. buses.  The signs read:

Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness’ sake.

Their goal is “to plant a seed of rational thought and critical thinking and questioning in people’s minds.”  This assumes we haven’t done that already, of course.  Countless Christians have been asking tough questions and thinking carefully for millennia. 

Here are some reasons to believe in God and why being “good for goodness’ sake” will ultimately fail you:

  1. God is real
  2. His standard of goodness is not your standard of goodness.  Even in your best moments you can’t win over God with your good behavior.  We are all sinners in need of a Savior.  Jesus is that Savior, and Christmas celebrates his entry into his creation.
  3. Individual standards of goodness vary.  Stalin thought he was good.  Abortionists think they are good. You may think you are good.  But how would you like have the content of every thought you’ve ever had communicated publicly?  Me neither.
  4. If there is no God, then the concept of universal morality is just a fiction that our defective bags-o’-chemicals bodies created.  Good will always just be what we want it to be, or what people vote it to be. 

Also peruse the apologetics links on the right, such as this one.

Back to the article:

Best-selling books by authors such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have fueled interest in “the new atheism” — a more in-your-face argument against God’s existence.

Yet few Americans describe themselves as atheist or agnostic; a Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life poll from earlier this year found 92 percent of Americans believe in God.

Even though 92% claim to believe in God, practically speaking many are functional Humanists themselves. 

There was no debate at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority over whether to take the ad. Spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said the agency accepts ads that aren’t obscene or pornographic.

To be clear, I have no objection to the Humanists using their funds to put forth their views in the marketplace of ideas.  Christians should be informed about what they believe and why they believe it and be able to engage the culture with the Good News of Jesus.  Provocative ads like this can make good discussion starters for us.