Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Presenting the Moral Argument Clearly

The Moral Argument for God's existence is a powerful tool for the Christian Case Maker to have in his evangelism toolkit.  However, like any argument we present, it is important to be as clear as possible with our terms so that the argument can be rightly understood. [1]  

A popular version of the Moral Argument goes like this: [2]

1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
3. Therefore, God exists.

Premise 1 has been traditionally affirmed by many atheists as demonstrated here and it seems reasonable to conclude that in the absence of God, moral values are just the by-product of Darwinian evolution and social conditioning.  And if this is the case, as atheist Richard Dawkins says, "The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference." [3]  Thus, as Chad Williams explains, "...if someone wants to negate the affirmation of premise (1) the burden of proof will lay squarely on them. It will be their responsibility to erect a basis for objective moral values in the absence of God." [4]

Premise 2 can be demonstrated to the sincere seeker of truth by pointing to some very clear moral truths such as:

1. Torturing people for fun is wrong.
2. Raping someone is wrong.
3. Killing innocent people is wrong.
4. Abusing a child is wrong.

Most will admit that the above are not just socially unacceptable or "taboo," but really, really wrong. We know this from our moral experience. [5]  Again, as Craig states,"People who fail to see this are just handicapped, the moral equivalent of someone who is physically blind, and there's no reason to let their impairment call into question what we see clearly." [6]  For those interested in learning how to handle those "hardliners" that even push back against these very clear moral truths, please see my talk on the subject here.

Please notice that I am using the word "objective" rather than"absolute."  This is strategic, as Dr. William Lane Craig explains here:




So, when you present the moral argument for God's existence, using the word objective rather than absolute can help you avoid common misunderstandings regarding the nature of objective moral values and duties and make the argument more clear for your listener.

Courage and Godspeed,
Chad


Footnotes:
1. The speakers at Stand to Reason are some of the most clear and concise I have heard.
2. For those curious about what makes a good argument, see here.
3.  Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden, p. 55.
4. Chad Williams, "What is the Moral Argument," http://sealofchrist.com/2011/12/what-is-the-moral-argument/.
5. For more on our moral experience, see here.
6. Ibid., p. 141.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Take a Stand on Biblical Inerrancy: Featuring Norman Geisler

In this interview with Richard Greene of Decision magazine, Dr. Geisler addresses the topic of Biblical Inerrancy.  This includes his response as to why the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy was produced in 1978.

You can read the interview here.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Book Highlight: Grand Central Question

Chapter 8:  God’s Greatness and the Preservation of the Gospel

Continuing through Abdu Murray’s book Grand Central Question brings us to this chapter in which Murray takes a hard look at the Qur’an. Muslims believe that the Qur’an is perfect. It is not inspired in the sense in which Christians believe the Old Testament and New Testament was inspired. To the Christian, these Testaments are thought to have come to us by God using the unique personalities of the writers. However, to the Muslim, the Qur’an is a recitation. In fact that is was Qur’an means. Muhammad wrote down a word for word dictation from the God.

In light of this, the Qur’an affirms that the Taurat (Torah), the Zabur (Psalms of David) and the Injeel (Gospel) were God’s self revelation to man. Murray points to verses such as Sura 3:3, 5:44-47, and 2:76-78. Even the understanding of the earliest Islamic commentators was that these verses were speaking of Jews and Christians being mistaken in their interpretation of the Torah and the Gospel not that these biblical texts had been changed. Until the ninth century, when the Bible was translated into Arabic, Muslims assumed that there were no inconsistencies between the Qur’an and the Gospel. At this time Ibn Khazem articulated and advanced the argument that the Bible had been corrupted because if it had not been then the Qur’an was wrong about the historical facts regarding the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. And it cannot be the case the Qur’an is wrong.

Murray writes where this argument leaves the Muslim:

The Muslim belief that the Bible is corrupt (to resolve the Bible’s contradiction of the Qur’an) creates a thorny theological problem. The Qur’an says that God revealed the Taurat, Zabur and Injeel. In other words, the Bible is God’s revealed word, his very self-revelation to humankind. But if the Bible was corrupted, then one of two consequences necessarily follows:  either (1) God was unable to preserve the Bible, or (2) God was unwilling to preserve the Bible. There is no third option.1

The first option is unacceptable to the Muslim because if God cannot preserve his self-revelation than he is not all-powerful. The second option leaves us wondering; if God was unwilling to preserve the Bible how can we trust that he will preserve the Qur’an? This also makes God responsible for millions, if not billions, entering eternal damnation due to shirk; belief in blasphemies such as the Trinity, the incarnation and the cross. In the chapters to come, Murray will contend that these doctrines actually manifest God’s greatness; eliminating the tension the Muslim faces.

Stand firm in Christ,
Chase

Footnotes:
1. Page 187.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering

Chapter Four: The Problem of Evil

David Hume stated, “Epicurus’s old questions are yet unanswered. 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?”  But before suffering is a philosophical issue, it is a practical crisis.  Before we ask “why is this happening”, we ask “how can I survive this?”  We all have to have some kind of working theory about suffering, what it means and how we should respond.  No one can function without some set of beliefs.

It wasn’t until after the Enlightenment that the argument from evil gained broad appeal and attraction when Western thinkers came to see God as more remote and the world completely understandable through reason.  Because of this, modern discussions begin with an abstract idea of God.  He is all-loving and all-powerful, but there is no thought regarding His glory, majesty, wisdom, necessity and being the creator and sustainer of all things.  The assumption begins that if they cannot see any good reason for suffering, then neither can God have justification for it.  We must also realize that the culture stacks the deck as well.  While many atheists are quick to argue that religious belief is merely a product of family and culture, they must also be aware that their own beliefs are formed not only by argument and reason, but by social conditioning as well.  Therefore, in order to be thoughtful, balanced and unprejudiced is to be aware of your own cultural biases.  If our highest value is individual freedom and autonomy, then God becomes a barrier to that. 

So the argument states that if God is all-powerful and all-good, then he wants to stop evil and has the complete capacity to do so.  Therefore, this either logically proves there is no such God or evidentially demonstrates that there probably is no such God.  Alvin Plantinga, in God, Freedom, and Evil and The Nature of Necessity, both published in 1974, rigorously and effectively argued that the existence of evil and an all-powerful, all-good God are not incompatible.  The idea that the existence of evil disproves God “is now acknowledged on (almost) all sides to be completely bankrupt” wrote William Alston.  The evidential argument makes the weaker claim that evil is not proof against but evidence that God’s existence is less probable.  However, the atheist must understand that he bears the burden of proof for this demonstration and that that burden is just too heavy to bear.  Therefore, this argument is also no longer seen as compelling.

Gogttfried Leibniz, coined the term theodicy, a justification of God’s ways to human beings, to answer the big “Why?” questions by demonstrating reasons and purposes for God’s actions.  The first of these was “soul-making”.  The highest good is not our comfort or happiness, but that we become morally and spiritually great.  However, there is no appearance of suffering that seems to be distributed to any need for soul-making.  Also, it does not account for the suffering of infants and children or even what we perceive as suffering among animals.

The second and most prominent theodicy is free will.  We are not preprogrammed robots or animals of instinct, but rational creatures free to choose and therefore love.  But to choose good also entails the freedom to choose evil.  So the greater good of choosing to love is worth the risk of the possibility of evil that follows.  Along with this is the idea that evil is not a creation of God.  Evil is not something in itself, but the privation of that which is good.  God is not the author of evil, but allowed its possibility in order to achieve the greater good of human freedom and love.

There are however two problems with this.  First, it only explains moral evil, performed by human beings, it does not explain natural evil.  The second is if God is sovereign and free, yet cannot do evil, could He not create free agents of the same capability?  Also, the Bible teaches that we will eventually live in a world where suffering and death will be banished forever, we will be incapable of choosing evil, yet freely love.

Finally, the nature of freedom as taught in the Bible differs greatly with modern views.  Sin is described as slavery, never freedom.  We are free only to the extent that we do what God intended for us.  Therefore, the more evil we commit, the less free we are.  So how can the ability to commit sin be a form of freedom?  Another biblical concept also undermines the free will theodicy.  In many places the text states that God sovereignly directs our choices, yet our freedom is not violated and we are still responsible for our actions.

Ultimately, are the horrendous evils of history worth the freedom of choice that we have?  Can free will be the only reason God allows evil?  “If God has good reasons for allowing the pain and misery we see, the reasons must extend beyond the mere provision of freedom of choice.”  Other theodicies that attempt to solve the problem include natural order, plenitude and punishment theories.  Taken together, they provide plausible explanations for a great deal of the evil and suffering we observe but always fall short of explaining all suffering.  Alvin Plantinga wrote, “I must say that most attempts to explain why God permits evil – theodicies, as we may call them – strike me as tepid, shallow and ultimately frivolous.”

While a theodicy attempts to explain the full story of God’s purposes for allowing evil and suffering, a defense seeks to prove that the argument against God fails and it does not mean that God cannot or is unlikely to exist.  This shifts the burden of proof from the theist to the atheist to explain why.  The skeptic must therefore argue why an all-good, all-powerful God and the existence of evil and suffering are actually contradictory.

Let us then examine the logical argument.  A short form of the argument goes like this:

1.  An all-good God would not want evil to exist
2.  An all-powerful God would not allow evil to exist.
3.  Evil exists.
4.  Therefore, an all-good, all-powerful God does not exist.

Behind this argument is another premise – God does not have any good reasons to allow evil to exist.  The skeptic therefore has to demonstrate that God cannot possibly have any such good reasons.  But that is quite difficult to prove.  We all allow suffering in other’s lives in order to bring about some greater good.  Having walked with my wife through surgery, radiation and chemotherapy for cancer I understand that many medical tests and procedures are quite painful and produce a great amount of suffering in order to provide some health benefit to the patient.  As a parent and teacher (and having been a child and student myself) I understand how discipline produces suffering in order to promote self-control and wisdom.  So we understand that it is not automatically contradictory to allow pain and suffering, or even to cause it ourselves.

Now the skeptic may agree that there can be good reasons for some suffering, but the magnitude and types of suffering we witness in the world are not warranted by such reasons.  This reveals a second hidden premise to the argument – you can’t see any good reasons God may have to allow evil to exist, therefore he cannot have any.  But we are talking about an infinitely knowledgeable and powerful God.  Why couldn’t he have any such reasons that you cannot think of?  To insist that such a God cannot have any such knowledge is itself a logical fallacy.  Alvin Plantinga states, “Given that God does have a reason for permitting these evils, why think we would be the first to know?....Given the he is omniscient and given our very substantial epistemic limitations, it isn’t at all surprising that his reasons…escape us.”  Ultimately, to believe that because you cannot think of some reason, therefore God cannot either is a mark of arrogance, pride and faith in your own intelligence.

Ok, so we can’t prove that it is logically impossible for all-good, all-powerful God to allow evil and suffering, but surely it is highly improbable that such a God exists.  But the evidential argument fails for the same reasons as the logical argument.  If we are in no position to prove that the existence of God and evil are contradictory, neither are we in any position to assess the probability that such a God cannot have any good reasons.  We, being finite beings, simply cannot assess the probabilities that an infinite God would not have any morally sufficient reasons.  We can consider the butterfly effect when assessing the complexities of directing a world of free creatures toward a certain goal.  It is often considered that if Hitler had been removed from history by some means, the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust would have been prevented.  Yet who knows who may have taken his place?  Perhaps someone equally malevolent yet with a slightly smaller ego would have ascended to power.  Maybe such an individual would have utilized Germany’s military capabilities with greater wisdom and would have successfully conquered the world and established a global reich.  We simply are in no position to judge even the seemingly pointless and unnecessary evils around us.

But do most people really object to evil and suffering for philosophical reasons?  Is that the argument we hear?  Or do we hear something more like this, “You can keep all your long chains of syllogistic reasoning.  I know the arguments.  I know the existence of this kind of cruelty does not technically disprove the existence of a personal God.  But it makes no sense that things like this are justified in any way.  This is just wrong – wrong.  I don’t want to believe in a God who would let this happen – whether he exists or not.”  This is the visceral argument.  It is not merely emotional or a passing feeling, it has a moral logic to it.  But this argument too has its own hidden assumptions.  Blaise Pascal wrote, “At first a thing pleases or shocks me without my knowing the reason and yet it shocks me for that reason which I only discover afterwards…The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know.”

There is a moral assumption in the argument, that God, if he exists, has failed and violated a moral standard, that he is complicit with the evil.  Yet to make such a statement assumes that a moral standard exists and can be used to measure what is right and what is wrong.  But what is the source of this measure?  Many will argue that our moral sense is the result of evolution.  But this can only account for our feelings and moral instincts, it does not and cannot explain moral obligation.  Feelings and instincts cannot be judged as true or false if another has differing feelings or instincts.  This becomes a conundrum for the basis of disbelief in God because evolution can provide no foundation for the certainty of evil or moral obligation.  If God does not exist, then there is no basis for objective moral values and duties.  In a sense, the argument against God assumes something that cannot exist without God, so it relies on God to argue against God.

C. S. Lewis came to understand this, that as an atheist, he could not use evil as an argument against God.  He understood that it was “precisely the ground which we cannot use” to object to God because “Unless we judge this waste and cruelty to be real evils we cannot…condemn the universe for exhibiting them…Unless we take our own standard to be something more than ours, to be in fact an objective principle to which we are responding, we cannot regard that standard as valid.”  If the world is just random and evil, then God does not exist, but then my definition of evil is only my own feeling.  Therefore, “unless we allow ultimate reality to be moral, we cannot morally condemn it.”

So what if evil and suffering actually make the existence of God more likely?  What if our awareness of evil is a clue that somehow, at some level, we truly know that God exists.  Atheist Andrea Palpant Dilley stated, “I think morals are totally subjective: therefore God is unnecessary.”  But she found herself considering, “if morals are totally subjective, then you can’t say Hitler was wrong.  You can’t say there’s anything unjust about letting babies starve.  And you can’t condemn evil.  How tenable is that? ...You have to consent to an objective moral standard, up here.”  Later, she concluded, “I couldn’t even talk about justice without standing inside of a theistic framework.  In a naturalistic worldview, a parentless orphan in the slums of Nairobi can only be explained in terms of survival of the fittest.  We’re all just animals slumming it in a godless world, fighting for space and resources.  The idea of justice doesn’t really mean anything.  To talk about justice, you have to talk about objective morality, and to talk about objective morality, you have to talk about God.”

If God does not exist, then why is there outrage and horror at unjust suffering?  Violence, suffering and death are all completely natural phenomenon.  There is no basis to say that cruelty is wrong.  Abandoning belief in God not only fails to solve the problem, it also removes many of the resources we need to face it.

Next week we will begin Part Two: Facing the Furnace, with Chapter Five: The Challenge of Faith.

Until then, don’t take my word for it, read the book – don’t wait for the movie,
and have a little hope on me,
Roger


To learn more about Timothy Keller and his work at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, you can check out his 
personal website, his Facebook page or the church homepage.

Keller, Timothy (2013), Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering. Penguin Group. ISBN 978-0-525-95245-9

Friday, July 18, 2014

On Defining Atheism


A popular tendency among some atheists these days is to define atheism, not as the positive thesis that God does not exist, but as the neutral claim that an atheist is one who simply lacks belief in God. If we could scan the mind of the atheist and catalogue all the beliefs the atheist holds, we would not find a belief of the form, “God exists.” Those who insist on defining atheism in this manner want to avoid the implications of having to defend the claim that God does not exist. They demand justification for faith in God while insisting that they bear no rational burdens in the debate since they are not making any positive claims on the question of God’s existence.

This strategy is mistaken on several levels. To begin with, there is no logical connection between a lack of belief about God in someone’s mind and the conclusion that God does not exist. At best, this definition leads us to agnosticism, roughly the view that we do not know whether or not God exists. For example, there are millions of people on this planet who hold no belief about the Los Angeles Lakers. But it would be quite a stretch to conclude from that empirical fact that the Lakers therefore do not exist.

Additionally, atheism thus defined is a psychological condition, not a cognitive thesis. Conduct a quick search on the Internet, and you will even find atheists who claim that babies are atheists because they lack belief in God. But, as some philosophers have pointed out, that is not a flattering state of affairs for the atheist, for, strictly speaking, a cow, by that definition, is also an atheist. For someone who is intent on merely giving a report about the state of his or her mind, pity, or an equivalent emotion, is the appropriate response, not a reasoned exchange. But nobody who has reflected long and hard about the issues and is prepared to argue vehemently about them should be let off the hook that easily.

In any case, such a definition of atheism goes against the intuitions held by almost everyone who has not been initiated into this way of thinking. In spite of the myriads of nuances one can give to one’s preferred version of denying God’s existence, the traditional view has been that there are ultimately only three attitudes one can take with regard to a particular proposition. 

Take the proposition, “God exists”. One could (1) affirm the proposition, which is theism, (2) Deny the proposition, which is atheism, or (3) withhold judgment with regard to the proposition, which is agnosticism. Those who affirm the proposition have to give reasons why they think it is true. Those who deny it have to give reasons why they think it is false. Only those who withhold judgment have the right to sit on the fence on the issue. Thus J. J. C. Smart states matter-of-factly, “‘Atheism’ means the negation of theism, the denial of the existence of God.”(1)

Nor will an attempt to defend this new definition on the basis of the etymology of the word “atheist” work. The word “atheist” is from the Greek word “Theos” which means “God”, and the “a” is the negation. The “a” is taken to mean “without”, and hence “atheism” simply means “without belief in God”. But this will not do. Even if we grant that the “a” means “without”, we will still not arrive at the conclusion that atheism means “without belief in God”. What is negated in the word “atheism” is not “belief” but “God”. Atheism still means “without God”, not “without belief”. There is no concept of “belief” in the etymology of the word – the word simply means the universe is without God, which is another way of saying that God does not exist.

Semantic quibbles aside, there are deeper problems with this position. The same atheists who decry the irrationality of believing in God still insist on shoehorning theistic ideas into their ontology. Most of them continue to defend the meaning and purpose of life, the validity of objective morality and the assurance that humanity is marching on towards progress and would move thus faster were it not for the shackles of religion. Such cosmic optimism would be unrecognizable to the most prominent atheists of yesteryear, not to mention the many in our day who say as much. It is recognized as a remnant of a biblical tradition that still has some of its grip on the western psyche.

Speaking about the belief that every human life needs to be protected, Richard Rorty wrote, “This Jewish and Christian element in our tradition is gratefully invoked by free-loading atheists like myself.”(2) But if God does not exist, theists live on false hope, and the freeloaders fair no better. Sever the cord between God and those elements of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and the honest among us fly into oblivion with shrills of despair to which only a Nietzsche or a Jean Paul Sartre can do full justice; for the validity of such positive attitudes about life is directly propositional to the plausibility of the existence of a caring God who directs the affairs of mankind.

J.M. Njoroge is a member of the speaking team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

(1) J. J. C. Smart, “Atheism and Agnosticism”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).
(2) Richard Rorty, “Postmodernist Bourgeois Liberalism,” in The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 80, No. 10, Part 1: (Oct., 1983), pp. 583-589.

Published on July 17, 2014 in A Slice of Infinity.  “Our gift and invitation to you, that you might further examine your beliefs, your culture, and the unique message of Jesus Christ.”

To learn more about Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, go here. http://www.rzim.org/


To receive A Slice of Infinity in your daily email, go here. http://www.rzim.org/a-slice-of-infinity/

Have a little hope on me,
Roger

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Video: The Power of Oral Tradition in Oral Cultures


In this short video, Michael Licona, Craig Blomberg, and Craig Evans discuss the power of oral tradition in ancient cultures and its importance for the study of the historical Jesus and the Gospels.

For more, see here.

Courage and Godspeed,
Chad

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

What I've Learned from Blog Comments

It is hard to believe that Truthbomb Apologetics started 6 years ago.  In those six years I've had the pleasure (most of the time) to interact with both believers and unbelievers of all stripes and in that time I have learned a few things about blog comments and the different kinds of people that leave them.

The Good

1. The Sincere Questioner- I have received emails and comments from folks who sincerely desire answers to their questions and we are grateful to receive them.

2. The Encourager- These are the folks who leave comments such as, "Thank you for this!" or "Keep up the great work!"  This is always appreciated and I realize I need to do more of this myself.

3. The Sharpener- This is the person who challenges something you've written or points out a possible error you've made in a very respectful manner.  Further, they may share a tip on how to better communicate a point your trying to make.  This is much appreciated and a great example of Proverbs 27:17: "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another."

The Bad

1. The Time Sucker- These are the folks who apparently have an endless amount of time to sit on their computer and argue with you, all the while not really wanting answers to their questions in the first place.  I recall once spending hours talking with a skeptic and I felt like I was offering some fairly sound arguments and he just wasn't dealing with them.  Finally I said, "I'm really sorry I haven't been able to help you remove the stumbling blocks that are keeping you from becoming a Christian, but I can offer you some great resources for further research."  I'll never forget his reply- "I have no desire to be a Christian."  Lesson learned.  If  he would have told me that in the beginning, he could have saved me much time!

2. The Assumer- This is the person who thinks they can diagnose everything about you and your entire worldview from a few sentences you've written or simply because you identify yourself as a Christian.

3. The Complainer- This person has no arguments of their own and doesn't even feel they need to offer any. They simply complain about the evidence for Christianity.

4. The Advertiser- These folks like to leave a very brief comment that may or may not have something to do with the post and then leave a link to their blog.

The Ugly

1. The Abuser- These are the folks who offer nothing but name-calling and ill will.  I recall one person telling me that I should just die!  Thankfully, these types of people have been few.

The most infamous in my memory was a guy who's blogger name was first "bobxxxx" and then he changed it to "Human Ape."  When I would do a feature relating to origins he would religiously comment and tell me how stupid I was and how I was "lying for Jeebus."  He would also routinely chastise me for moderating comments and tell me that it was because I was "a dumb Christian who was afraid of evolution," which is funny when one considers we have done numerous posts on evolution!  So, I began visiting his blog and challenging some of his assumptions and he began deleting my comments and now you can't even comment on his blog unless you are a member!  He still maintains that all Christians are "idiots" and that the world would be a better place if they all just died. [1]

Advice to Others Bloggers

Here are some tips that I have had to learn "on the job:"

1. Guard Your Time- Contend for the faith, but not so much that it takes you away from your God or your family.

2. Stay Patient- One blog comment is not going to destroy Christianity.  Take a few days to think about the comment and do your research before responding.

3. Don't Feed the Trolls- This is a tip given to me by a fellow blogger that has served me well.  By "troll," I mean someone who is merely commenting to complain or argue, but has no desire for real answers or dialogue.  Be clear, concise and brief with these types and be careful not to "throw your pearls before swine" [Matt. 7:6].

4. Pray- When you are involved in an exchange with someone, pray for them.

5. Provide Resources- There are so many questions out there that chances are you will be asked a question that you don't know the answer to.  In a case like this, it is completely acceptable to offer a resource or book that you know deals well with the topic in question.

Comment Publishing

We try to be very discerning about what comments get published and what comments do not.  Sure, we have a comment policy, but ultimately the blog authors have final say.  Our goal is to always be fair and when a comment doesn't get published, it is with good reason.

In conclusion, it has been a privilege to interact with folks from around the globe and I understand what I believe better because of it.

Courage and Godspeed,
Chad

Footnote:

1. I hesitate to share the name of this blog due to the fact that the language on it is deplorable.  Should you want to know what it is, please send me an email and I will gladly give you the link.  However, reader beware.  The blog is a prime example of quote mining, straw-manning and name-calling.  

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

5 Reasons Why You Should Check Out Christianity First...by Craig Hazen

1. Because it is testable.  It is the only religion that you can check out, and if it doesn't match up with history, with the facts it claims, then you can discard it immediately.  (Roman history, resurrection...)

2. It is a concept of grace.  It is the only religion that offers salvation as a free gift, up-front.  So why not check it out first?

3. You get to lead a non-compartmentalized life.  Buddhism lives in 2 worlds...physical and spiritual...

4. Christianity has the best worldview fit...It has the best view on evil and suffering...neither a Buddhist nor a Wiccan priestess can explain the holocaust.

5. Jesus Christ.  All the major world religions have Jesus in their religion...so why not check out the one that has Jesus at the center? [1]

Courage and Godspeed,
Chad

Footnote:
1. From Dr. Craig Hazen, Talbot Lecture Series, 2000 as featured by Search Ministries in their Questions Study Guide.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Book Highlight: Grand Central Question

Chapter 7:  From Whence Comes God’s Greatness?

We continue looking into Abdu Murray's book Grand Central Question with chapter 7. This chapter begins Part Three entitled Islam or the Gospel:  Which Tells Us About God’s Greatness? How is God great? This is Islam’s Grand Central Question; for Islam is centered on the Takbir - the phrase “Allahu Akbar” which means God is greater. The Muslim, like the Christian, believes God is the Greatest Possible Being. Yet the Islamic version of monotheism diverts from other forms of monotheism in Tawhid or God’s oneness. Murray writes:

He is absolute unity, utterly without any differentiation within himself. To have any differentiation within God would be to diminish his greatness.1

In Islam, ascribing differentiation to God is called shirk; the greatest possible blasphemy.

The importance of Takbir can be understood in light of the historical context out of which Islam originated. Islam came out of a seventh-century pagan culture. Judaism and Christianity were also well established. In this, what Murray calls, “state of competition”, Islam was offering a God who was better than all the others. Murray quotes Winfried Corduan to describe what the result of this was:

Islam did not so much define itself internally as externally against the other existing options.2

This wholly other nature of God leaves him unknowable to the Muslim. He is a personal being yet personal interaction with him is impossible. Thus God is to be obeyed and served as a master. In light of this overwhelming conception of God, Murray recalls his struggle to answer the question, “How is God great?” while a Muslim:

I  wanted to express adoration to the personal Supreme Being, yet I could not help but believe that such a thing was beyond me. I so desired to tell of God’s infinite mercy, yet also wanted to proclaim his uncompromising justice.  The dilemmas that emerged from that struggle seemed inescapable from the Islamic perspective. So I was forced to retreat to escapist answers that really were no answers at all. To avoid the dilemma, I had to believe that attributes like justice, love and compassion are not remotely the same for God as they are for humanity. I hoped that this retreat would solve the issue for me. But it did not.

Chalking the dilemma up to a mystery was not enough for me, and from the writings I have read and the looks in the eyes of Muslims I have talked with, I know that it is not enough for them either. Like all who sincerely want to believe in one God, Muslims yearn to acknowledge God’s greatness. They do not pretend to fully understand it, nor should they expect to. But there is something about us, in our experience of personal relationships, that senses a tug for divine relationship.  Something within us knows that although we cannot fully comprehend God’s ways and how his mercy interacts with his justice, there must be a way to reconcile them if God is truly great.  We must be able to do so without sacrificing reason on the altar of mysterious reverence. Though God’s greatness might transcend our reason, it must not defy it.  On this Muslims and Christians can agree.3

Perhaps the answer to Islam’s Grand Central Question is found in the very worldview Islam rejected as lesser during its origin; the gospel? This question Murray will examine in the remaining chapters of Part Three.

Stand firm in Christ,
Chase

Footnotes:
1. Page 166
2. Page 167
3. Pages 169 - 170