An enlightening and entertaining dialogue with Jewish talk host Dennis Prager and Christian pastor/commentator Robert Jeffress. Judaism is the oldest living religion, and the foundation for many Christian beliefs and practices.
– What is the difference between the Jewish and Christian view of life after death? – What can Jews learn from Christians? – Why have Jews been the target of persecution throughout history? – Why is Christianity now being opposed?
Join Dennis Prager and Dr. Robert Jeffress along with moderator Dudley Rutherford as they discuss the similarities and differences of these two great world religions.
An Embarrassment of Miracles
Miracles have become more and more of a burden to the lukewarm Christian – something that embarrasses him in front of his more secular friends
In 1820, Thomas Jefferson created an abridged version of the New Testament, literally with a razor and glue, which he titled “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.” In essence, he stripped the New Testament of supernatural events and reduced it to a moral philosophy.
Ever since the Enlightenment, miracles have become more and more of a burden to the lukewarm Christian – something that embarrasses him in front of his more secular friends. This reflects a complete misunderstanding of who we are – and who God is.
To be a Christian worthy of the name, surely one must accept the Bible at face value at least as far as its very first verse, Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
Here, in the plainest possible language, we have a bold assertion – that God didn’t just happen upon the universe already formed by parties unknown or by some dead process of nature, but actually created it. That is a miracle. Beyond the creation itself, any further miracles must pale by comparison. It makes no sense to believe that God could bring the universe into being but could not have had the power to save Jonah from the heart of the sea by the means of a great fish, nor have had the power to raise the dead. If one is going to deny the existence of relatively minor miracles on the grounds that they are odd and inexplicable, one should have the rational consistency to deny the greatest, most astounding miracle at all.
Let’s consider Jonah’s fishy miracle in a bit more detail. It makes an enlightening example. Suppose that a modern, technologically capable group of people wanted, for whatever reason, to keep a human being alive inside a whale or a large shark for three days. Would it be possible? Although we have never done such a thing to my knowledge, it is by no means unimaginable. We know what the physiological requirements of human beings are and can make a reasonable guess at whether or not a particular aquatic animal might tolerate an enclosed life support system large enough to accomplish the task. Surely we could make a capsule that would keep a man alive for 72 hours and yet be sufficiently small to fit within the body of a whale or even the largest of the sharks. But people scoff at the Jonah story as so much nonsense. Why?
Something can be true in a meaningful sense without being a historical narrative.
We would like to think we can choose our own destinies and bend the world according to our explanations.
People have absorbed the popular notion that everything around us has a humanly knowable scientific explanation, so they become uncomfortable with the idea that God hasn’t limited His means to those processes that we ourselves can understand. We think we know most of what there is to know about whales and large sharks, so we pride ourselves on understanding that an ordinary animal, upon swallowing a man, would immediately start to digest him. In biblical references involving things we know, we tend to expect God to play by the rules we observe in nature. However, when it comes to grander miracles like the creation itself, that science either can’t explain at all or can explain only poorly, we are more likely to accept the divine explanation.
Miracles are, by definition, supernatural. This to say that they are “beyond nature” – or, in a word, “unknowable.” However, they are unknowable only to us. From God’s perspective, the distinction between the natural and the supernatural cannot exist, the whole of the universe being not only knowable to Him, but fully and completely known. As I said earlier, to reject miracles out of hand is to understand neither who we are nor who God is.
The rejection of miracles is widespread among people who still consider themselves Christians. I recall watching a popular documentary purporting to explain the twelve plagues of Egypt in entirely natural terms. There is a whole series of programs of this sort. Real Christians should beware. Such explanations are not benign attempts to reveal God’s means, but instead attempts to render God unnecessary. Our faith isn’t compatible with believing that the Bible’s human authors were merely remarkable predictors or chroniclers of unplanned natural phenomena. Rather, the Christian knows from the inside out that the universe around us is itself miraculous – the physical expression of the mind of God.
I do not want to be seen as advocating an absolute and rigid fundamentalism. To say something is possible is not the same as saying it is known. Something can be true in a meaningful sense without being a historical narrative. Christ’s parables are true, but plainly, they are not the record of historical events. The prodigal son was a metaphor, not a flesh-and-blood historical person. Likewise, we do not know with absolute certainty whether Christ was speaking metaphorically or not when he referred to the Book of Jonah in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew. Nor do we know with absolute certainty whether or not the Book of Jonah was itself an extended metaphor. To assume that it was a metaphor is to grant ourselves knowledge we do not actually have. To assume that it was not a metaphor is, however, just as arrogant. The safest course is not to make assumptions of either kind.
Neither the higher critical method nor our own lamentable vanity qualifies us to parse through Holy Scripture with Thomas Jefferson’s razor – nor to impart to it a childish factuality that undermines God’s message. The point of Aesop’s fable about the tortoise and the hare is rather lost if you fixate on the novelty of tortoises and hares organizing interspecies sporting events. While much of the Bible is undoubtedly historically accurate, it is not the primary purpose of the Bible to chronicle the literal history of the ancient world. Whether or not Jonah lived three days and nights inside the belly of a whale is not, I believe, the heart of the lesson God intended to give us. That Jonah’s attempts to avoid God’s call were futile is a more important matter than the problem of the story’s historicity. That God is sovereign over everything, using us as he chooses, appears to be the point. However, the literal interpretation of the Jonah story would not have been beyond God’s means. Let no one scoff.
We human beings don’t like acknowledging our own limitations. Aristotle said: “All men by nature desire knowledge.” While I’ve met a few who seemed content to wallow in their own ignorance, I don’t think Aristotle was completely off the mark. We are prideful creatures, after all. We would like to think we can choose our own destinies and bend the world according to our explanations. In fact, we can do neither. Like Jonah, we are shepherded by forces greater than ourselves. We reject the idea of miracles not because we are wise, but because we would like the world to be comfortably predictable. The unexpected and unknowable frighten us – and we rebel.
The way Christianity is portrayed in the media has changed tremendously even when paring it to media in the 70s.
On NRATV’s Hot Mic, Bill Whittle talks about Christianity and the media.
While the average Christian doesn’t mix his religion with his politics although he may be active in both, the secular Left seems to want to make religion, that is the removal of it from the marketplace, a plank in their ideology. Dennis Prager says that can be no morality without God. Others have said that without a moral and informed society democracy or our Republic will not survive.
The problem that confronts us is the lack of Judaeo-Christian values, the breakdown of the family, abortion and the rise of sexual neutering may degrade our society so badly that we are headed for Civil War.
Dennis Prager and Ravi Zacharias joined host Frank Sontag to discuss religion and culture.
Purchase the full video here: http://hashtagpros.com/shop/an-evenin…
All you then have to do is keep out of his mind the question, “If I, being what I am, can consider that I am in some sense a Christian, why should the different vices of those people in the next pew prove that their religion is mere hypocrisy and convention?” – C.S. Lewis
Moses murdered an Egyptian and hid his body in the sand. David had a loyal soldier killed in battle to cover up his infidelity with the man’s wife. Peter denied Christ three times before the cock crowed even though he knew He was the Messiah.
These were great men, champions of Christianity, heroes for the ages – and yet they were flawed and weak. Do you really think the Christians we look up to today are any better? Maybe they are, but I suspect if we knew the secret sins of people like Billy Graham, Rick Warren, and Mother Teresa, then we wouldn’t have as high an opinion of their character. However, that says more about us than it does about them because there was only one perfect man who walked the earth and the rest of us have feet of clay. Sinning comes with the territory and all of us do it. That’s why we’ve been told to, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.”
Of course, it’s not always so simple. It’s easy to think of a person who does something bad as someone bad – and that’s often not the case. As John Watson said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” People get depressed, exhausted, hurt, confused and lost. In their pain, sometimes they sin to try to fill that hole in themselves even though they know what they’re doing is wrong.
Ever listened to someone telling you about cheating on her spouse, heard about how bad her home life is and think, “I don’t condone cheating, but I’m not sure I blame her?” Have you been told about something a person did that was undeniably wrong, but you’ve thought, “That’s a tough situation and I’m not sure I would have done anything differently?” So often, I’ve heard someone tell me about something awful he’s done and thought, “There but for the grace of God go I.”
What do you do in the face of that kind of ambiguity? How do you handle it when you’re talking to a good and decent person who has done something bad?
Too often, the modern response has been to steer clear of the whole dilemma by waving off any and all standards of moral behavior. After all, if you have no standards, then how can you be accused of not living up to them when you fall short? If everything is permissible, then how can you be condemned for being a hypocrite?
The problem with that sort of thinking is that it’s trying to live to God’s standards that carves us into better human beings. If we have no standards, then it’s easy to be content to roll around in the sewer. If we make our own standards, then being what we are, we’ll make them very lax in the areas where we’re weak. Only by trying to live up to tough standards set by a Higher Power can we really achieve our greatest potential as human beings and become everything we ought to be.
That doesn’t mean it’s simple. Going down that road means that we sometimes are unable to excuse the behavior of people we care about or people who are hurting. It can also cause turmoil when good people we admire don’t live up to their moral code and there are consequences for their behavior. You can’t follow the pastor who’s having an affair, agree with the friend who’s stealing from his job to pay his bills, or cheer on the politician who’s lying to achieve his goals.
The whole process is messy, ugly, uneven and, yes, sometimes even hypocritical, but it’s what it takes for us to grow. If it requires a bit of hypocrisy now and again for flawed, broken creatures like us to try to serve our fellow man the way God intended, then that’s a small price to pay.
Now we are left with only two choices—an eternal reality or reality being created by something that is eternal: an eternal universe or an eternal Creator. The 18th-century theologian Jonathan Edwards summed up this crossroads:
• Something exists.
• Nothing cannot create something.
• Therefore, a necessary and eternal “something” exists.
Notice that we must go back to an eternal “something.” The atheist who derides the believer in God for believing in an eternal Creator must turn around and embrace an eternal universe; it is the only other door he can choose. But the question now is, where does the evidence lead? Does the evidence point to matter before mind or mind before matter?
To date, all key scientific and philosophical evidence points away from an eternal universe and toward an eternal Creator. From a scientific standpoint, honest scientists admit the universe had a beginning, and whatever has a beginning is not eternal. In other words, whatever has a beginning has a cause, and if the universe had a beginning, it had a cause. The fact that the universe had a beginning is underscored by evidence such as the second law of thermodynamics, the radiation echo of the big bang discovered in the early 1900s, the fact that the universe is expanding and can be traced back to a singular beginning, and Einstein’s theory of relativity. All prove the universe is not eternal.
Further, the laws that surround causation speak against the universe being the ultimate cause of all we know for this simple fact: an effect must resemble its cause. This being true, no atheist can explain how an impersonal, purposeless, meaningless, and amoral universe accidentally created beings (us) who are full of personality and obsessed with purpose, meaning, and morals. Such a thing, from a causation standpoint, completely refutes the idea of a natural universe birthing everything that exists. So in the end, the concept of an eternal universe is eliminated.
Philosopher J. S. Mill (not a Christian) summed up where we have now come to: “It is self-evident that only Mind can create mind.” The only rational and reasonable conclusion is that an eternal Creator is the one who is responsible for reality as we know it. Or to put it in a logical set of statements:
• Something exists.
• You do not get something from nothing.
• Therefore a necessary and eternal “something” exists.
• The only two options are an eternal universe and an eternal Creator.
• Science and philosophy have disproven the concept of an eternal universe.
• Therefore, an eternal Creator exists.
Former atheist Lee Strobel, who arrived at this end result many years ago, has commented, “Essentially, I realized that to stay an atheist, I would have to believe that nothing produces everything; non-life produces life; randomness produces fine-tuning; chaos produces information; unconsciousness produces consciousness; and non-reason produces reason. Those leaps of faith were simply too big for me to take, especially in light of the affirmative case for God’s existence … In other words, in my assessment the Christian worldview accounted for the totality of the evidence much better than the atheistic worldview.”
Is there an argument for the existence of God?
Every once in awhile you run into some one who pulls the strings of empathy and understanding, who opens your eyes to fields of thought you would never have experienced on your own. Such a person is Dee Chadwell. She says about herself and her website A SINGLE WINDOW –
“I have spent more than 40 years studying the Bible, theology, and apologetics and that finds its way into my writing whether I’m writing about my experiences or my opinions. I have two and a half moldering novels, stacks of essays, and one poetry chapbook, from which several poems have won state and national prizes. All that writing – and more keeps popping up — needs a home with a big plate glass window, it needs air, it needs a conversation.”
Now its your turn to have your world expanded.
Who’s in Charge Here, Anyway?
I recently shocked a friend of mine by declaring I wasn’t a Calvinist. Nothing against Calvin personally, but those who tried to step into his shoes did quite a job distorting some of the most basic Christian doctrines – election, atonement, grace, original sin, just to name a few. Calvinism disfigures the essence of God and with that, since we were created in His image, contorts the nature of man.
Needless to say, whole books could result from such a discussion so I’ll take this one tiny piece at a time. Lately, I’ve been asked by several different people to address issues relating to the sovereignty of God, so I’ll start there.
But first, a caveat – the Bible is the source of specific information regarding the nature of God and man, and the Bible is not just a list of disconnected quotes; it is an infinitely complex, multilayered arrangement of divine concepts and history (both past and future) and must always be understood in the light of its entirety. No doctrine can contradict another. God is rational; He made us to be a shadow of Himself, knew we would fall, and still left us the Bible with the intent that we learn from it and think about it rationally. So let us go as far as we can:
1. Sovereignty refers to God’s supreme majesty, His divine right to control what He has made. I don’t know anyone who doubts that the buck stops with God. Even atheists seem to agree with this idea; that’s why they’re so angry – it’s all His fault, therefore He can’t exist. (!?)
2. Godness involves more than just sovereignty. Deity (I’m including all 3 members of the Trinity) is also perfect righteousness, absolute justice, love, veracity, immutability, omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, and eternal life. Add to that the epitome of creativity and an amazing sense of humor.
3. If God made us “in His image,” we are fallen, lesser versions of those attributes. Are we not concerned with goodness? Do we not strive for fairness? Do we not love? Do we not value truth, stability, and strength? Do we not have intelligence? Life? Presence? We create, not ex nihilo, true, but is not creativity one of our most driving forces? Do we not laugh? And do we not have some limited sovereignty over our lives? Do we not have free will? (Aye, there’s the rub – more about that later.)
4. God is also the archetype of balance. All of His attributes are in perfect equilibrium. His omnipotence, for instance, is limited by his righteousness – He can’t do evil. His immutability controls His justice – He can’t just up and change the rules. His omniscience informs His veracity – He can tell the truth because He knows the truth. All of His perfections are inter-related and interdependent.
5. God’s free will, His sovereignty, is limited by His perfection. We aren’t so constrained; we have very little problem choosing to do something that goes against our morals or our intelligence. We eat too much, drink too much, worry too much, lie often, steal occasionally. We suffer a midge of guilt, but otherwise we dive right in, law and common sense be damned. But God can’t do that; God is perfect. His omniscience, His righteousness, His justice, His love, His veracity, His immutability areperfect. Therefore, His sovereignty is both limited and perfected by His other attributes; He cannot choose to do something wicked. He can’t choose to do something unjust. He can’t lie. He can’t just up and change His nature.
6. If God can just choose, willy-nilly whom He will elect, whom He will save, and whom He will not, then:
a. The issue of salvation (John 3:16) is false because then our salvation would be not a matter of faith, but a matter of God’s capricious choice.
b. The Great Commission is a joke – see #1.
c. Satan would be correct in his accusation of God’s unfairness.
7. If God is sovereign, can He not decide to share that sovereignty just as He has chosen to share His omniscience?
8. Isn’t He omniscient enough, omnipotent enough (strange phrases) to control things even though He has shared that free will? Are we not imposing limitations on God by claiming He couldn’t pull it off?
9. Calvinism goes off the cliff with its emphasis on sovereignty as if it outranked God’s other perfections. Such an arrangement would make it possible for God to be a petty tyrant, would it not? If He is more sovereign than He is good, or fair, truthful, are we safe? Can we trust Him? I think not.
God has not presented Himself as a vacillating, unpredictable player of eenie-meenie-miney-moe. He has demonstrated His fairness, above and beyond, by climbing onto the cross as the Last Adam to make right what went wrong in the Garden. He has said clearly that our salvation depends on faith in Jesus Christ, not on the vagaries of His untrammeled will.
The church today suffers mightily from this error. How can a dying world take Christ seriously if His people proclaim a gospel we don’t believe in? If we really buy the idea that God chooses, irrationally and capriciously, who gets to trust in Christ’s work, then what is the point of evangelism? If grace is irresistible then those who are chosen to believe will and those who won’t, won’t, so why bother?
But most importantly, where is the grace in such an arrangement? Where is the grace in providing salvation only for some? If God can make us believe, then why doesn’t He make everyone believe? (2nd Peter 3:9) Why create a person just to condemn him?
Calvinism’s fixation on sovereignty at the expense of God’s other perfections is forcing the church to attempt to stand, like a broken chair, to stand on only one leg. Liberal Christianity tried that, recognizing only the attribute of love, crippling the power of the gospel, painting a picture of a god who would love his creatures unconditionally, but would kill his own son. Evangelical Christianity is in the same precarious pickle – wobbling around on a one-legged chair.
Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.
The most persecuted and victimized people in the world today are Christians in the Middle East. The perpetrators of the widespread destruction of that region’s Christian community? Islamists. Middle East expert Raymond Ibrahim lays out the grim details.
How have political ethics have replaced Biblically based morality in the minds of educated young people?
Consider Alex. She is a 27-year-old woman in the process of earning a PsyD degree to become a psychologist. She mentioned she was having a difficult time finding appropriate men to date and was considering an online dating service. I suggested that if she goes that route she needs to be clear about what characteristics are unacceptable to her. She thought for a moment then said, “One thing I cannot tolerate is homophobia.”
Of all the advantages a worthy life partner could bring to this young woman, and of all the harm that an unworthy partner might inflict, the first thing she identified is a young man’s view regarding homosexuality.
I asked, “If you could date a rapist-murderer or a homophobe, you’d choose the rapist-murderer?” She laughed nervously. Feeling sorry for this daughter of a world gone mad, I said, “I’m serious, think about it. A woman is vulnerable to the men she dates. Do you really mean to find out about political sensibilities before criminal tendencies?” I asked if she believed the behaviors associated with homophobia were morally worse than sex crimes. She said, “Psychologists don’t make moral judgments!” She went on to explain that homophobia was as bad as any crime because it killed more people than murder by causing suicide, addictions, spread of HIV, and crimes against gay people.
I said, “OK, you don’t like the word moral. How did you learn your ethical code?” She said she had been taught tolerance toward gay people all her life. I asked her if she had been raised in a particular religion. She replied, “No. Most of the problems in the world come from religion!”
“OK, you didn’t go to church. But how would you describe your beliefs about unchanging truth — as William James called it, your religious experience?” She said, “Who’s William James?”
In 1901-02 William James delivered lectures at the University of Edinburgh, which were later collected into the classic book, The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature. James writes, “To the psychologist the religious propensities of man must be at least as interesting as any other of the facts pertaining to his constitution.” In his second lecture, “Circumscription of the Topic,” James declares the search for a single definition of religious experience to be futile. He distinguishes between institutional religion and personal religion, and explains his term ‘religious experience’ as the infinite varieties of personal interpretation of religion, “the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine.”
James takes several of his 500 pages enlarging upon the categories of the divine. Summarizing “moral, philosophical and ritualistic belief systems,” James writes, “We must therefore, from the experiential point of view, call these godless or quasi-godless creeds ‘religions’; and accordingly when in our definition of religion we speak of the individual’s relation to ‘what he considers the divine,’ we must interpret the term ‘divine’ very broadly, as denoting any object that is godlike, whether it be a concrete deity or not.”
James’ own experience of “God unseen” permeates his opus. He makes the point that his psychology of religious experience is based on the personal documents of religiously convicted individuals and not on anything resembling cultural anthropology. He writes about religious experiences such as the sense of unseen divine presence, religious conversion, saintliness, mysticism, the comparison between naturalism and salvationism. But the personal documents he reviews are overwhelmingly those of Christians. He devotes a few pages to writings regarding Judaism, Hinduism, Mohammedanism, and other non-Christian religions, but about 90% of his psychological observations refer to Christianity.
James could not have imagined the beliefs of Alex nor that the field of psychology, which he helped to found, would train psychologists to be frankly hostile to Christianity. Young psychologists like Alex blame Christian religious experience for the problems of society and assertively reject the Biblically based moral code.
For Alex, political ethics, especially regarding sexuality, have replaced Judeo-Christian morality as the guide to her beliefs and choices.