Category : Apologetics
A recent article from the Religion News Service looks at the mainstream – including both Christians and non-Christians – American view of Mormons, and concludes, “Americans (are) intrigued but wary still of Mormon beliefs.”
Cathy Grossman, the article’s author, makes an interesting observation: Mormons are significantly more likely than Roman Catholics or Protestants to be knowledgeable about their beliefs (a claim that is debatable, as we’ll see in a future post), and they are far more likely than other groups to be deeply committed to their group’s orthodoxy. To illustrate this point, Grossman refers to a 2010 Pew study which “asked 32 questions on the Bible, major religious figures and core beliefs and practices, the average score was 16 correct. Just 19 percent of Protestants knew the basic tenet that salvation is through faith alone, not actions as well.”
The study also found that 45 percent of respondents believed the Golden Rule is one of the Ten Commandments, and 65 percent could not name all four Gospel books. Sadly, the Pew study found that even atheists tend to have a deeper knowledge of biblical teaching than do Protestants
The general lack of knowledge among Protestants demonstrates several significant issues.
First, the fact that many know little about their ostensible faith demonstrates a lack of appreciation for God’s truth. Jesus gives us in just a few words the essence of the Bible when he prays, “Thy word is truth” (John 17:17). In a world in which many question whether absolute truth exists, the Bible tells us quite plainly that this truth can be found in Scripture – and it can be found there because God himself is “The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth” (Exodus 34:6). When we refuse to learn God’s truth, we show a lack of concern for this truth – and thus a lack of concern for God himself.
This lack of concern for God and his truth is the central and primary problem, of course, but people who refuse to learn about God are also missing out on the great privilege of this learning and knowledge. The psalmist tells us a true worshipper of God can be identified by the fact that “his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night” (Psalm 1:2; emphasis added). Later in the psalms we read, “I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies, as much as in all riches. I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways. I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word” (119:14-16; emphases added).
It is impossible to over-emphasize this point: being known by God, and learning more about him and his work for and in us, is the source of the greatest joy; indeed, “the joy of the LORD is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). As we grow in our relationship with God, and our knowledge of him, we can say, “My soul shall be joyful in the LORD: it shall rejoice in his salvation” (Psalm 35:9). Furthermore, experiencing and demonstrating this joy will not only enrich our lives – it is also a powerful testimony to others of the glory of God (see Jeremiah 33:9).
That last point leads to the final two issues tied up in failing to know God’s truth: we lack guidance in life when we do not know God’s truth, and we fail to demonstrate to others God’s glory. Even beyond doctrinal and moral drift in the church and larger culture, we too often see people whose lives are simply aimless and without purpose. Faithful Christians have such guidance, however, because “(God’s) word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105). This is because, Paul tells us, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
When we are knowledgeable in God’s truth, and are guided by his truth, we are also able to share this truth with others. As Peter says, “Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ” (1 Peter 3:15-16). Knowing God’s truth, and being able to share it with others, enables us to be used by God to clear up doctrinal misunderstandings among Christians that are frequently exploited by new and alternative religions, and to reach people are who involved in such groups.
Grossman’s article is a much-needed reminder to Christians: we need to learn more about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints“…and we also need to learn more about our own faith.
An editorial by James Dennis LoRusso proclaims, “God Wants You to Work Harder, and to Stop Complaining – The goals of the “˜workplace spirituality’ movement dovetail with a conservative Christian corporate ethos.” The article focuses on the recent International Faith and Spirit at Work Conference, in which academic and leaders discussed “the challenges and opportunities with integrating faith and spirituality in the workplace.”
LoRusso makes an interesting point in his editorial about the ideological influence of the workplace spirituality movement:
Because the movement reifies entrenched neo-conservative views, workplace spirituality is actually more ideologically committed than it appears on its surface, a truth revealed plainly at the Conference.
On one hand, the attendees represented an eclectic group of religiously liberal spiritual seekers, devoted to the equality and goodness of all forms of faith. On the other hand, Christian organizations comprised the majority of conference sponsors.
LoRusso is correct in noting that all three “gold sponsors” for the conference are Christian (or at least Christian-influenced and oriented) organizations, as are John Brown University, Russell Media, and WorkMatters. At the same time, LoRusso neglects to mention that there were nineteen sponsors, meaning the distinctly Christian organizations made up less than one-third of the sponsors – this may make Christianity the most represented single religion, but it does not make Christian organizations the majority of conference sponsors (instead, the primary shared characteristic of the majority of conference sponsors is their location in the northern Arkansas / southern Missouri region).
This point is particularly important for two reasons. First, it is important to realize that the three organizations LoRusso singles out as examples of problematic corporate ethoi within Christian organizations – Tyson, Wal-mart and ServiceMaster – are all non-religious corporations, even if they have Christians in upper management. It is therefore disingenuous to ascribe to Christianity the specific positions these corporations hold and demonstrate regarding global capital and income disparity.
More significant is LoRusso’s claim that this conference demonstrates a Christian ideological undergirding of the workplace spirituality movement. We’ve just seen that, contrary to his assertion, Christian organizations were not the majority sponsors of the conference to which he responds. Is it possible that Christianity nonetheless generally infuses the workplace spirituality movement, or does the movement lean more toward the “eclectic group of religiously liberal spiritual seekers” who LoRusso claims were the attendees of the conference?
While there is extensive disagreement among experts concerning the nature of the workplace spirituality movement, one thing these experts have in common is that few claim Christianity – and particularly conservative Christianity – is the ideological foundation for the movement. Instead, for example, Robert A. Giacalone and Carole L. Jurkiewicz observe that Eastern religion forms one of the key bases for the workplace spirituality movement. Don Grant, Kathleen O’Neil and Laura Stephens argue that the workplace spirituality movement is an integral act of “creating sacred communities outside organized religion” (“Spirituality in the Workplace,” Sociology of Religion, 65.3 (2004), 281). Likewise, Sukumarakurup Krishnakumar and Christopher P. Neck, while looking at the Buddhist and Christian perspectives of work, argue that the existentialist view of spirituality “is perhaps the most connected to the concepts such as the search for meaning in what we are doing at the workplace.”
Cathy Driscoll and Elden Wiebe provide an excellent summary of the workplace spirituality movement in their paper, “Technical Spirituality at Work: Jacques Ellul on Workplace Spirituality“ (I’ve removed the parenthetical references):
Much of the ‘new’ workplace spirituality literature is secular in nature. In the 1970s, spirituality began to increasingly appear in popular literature as something that needn’t be attached to religion. For example, in much of the literature published in the 1990s, there is no reference to a particular religion or faith perspective. Marcic’s review of 100 books and 100 journals on the topic of spirituality and work found that less than 20% mentioned God or a Divine Presence. Cash & Gray noted that by broadening spirituality to a broad definition of belief, people will not connect spirituality to any one particular religion. Some liken spirituality to values or a new personality dimension. Others have described spirituality and work as combining religion, psychology, and therapy in order to market it to today’s workforce. Some have promoted the efforts by some authors such as Steven Covey to secularize spirituality so that it is more “˜corporately palatable.’ According to Mitroff & Denton, “˜spirituality is broadly inclusive and embraces everyone”…it asserts the sacredness of everything’. One definition of spirituality was found to be 116 words long. The most frequently advertised spiritualities are those that relate to “˜a metaphysic of universal energy and connection.’ This includes non-Western religion, self-help, New Age, holistic and alternative health techniques, the occult, spiritual and charismatic leaders, etc. This secular spirituality has become a multimillion-dollar market. According to Aburdene, “˜[s]eekers on the spiritual path turn to Spirit for anything and everything. Peace, compassion, love, a new car or a healthier bank account.’ In addition, most of the spirituality and work literature focuses on individual spiritual development, rather than broader social concerns.
Driscoll and Wiebe ultimately conclude, restating research by R.A. Wedemeyer and R. Jue, that the workplace spirituality movement is rooted in “pragmatic spirituality,” which is distinct from any formal belief system and instead is focused upon the “bottom line” of personal and/or organizational effectiveness and success.
You can see this pragmatic, hodge-podge nature of workplace spirituality in an article we published in the late 1990s on the extremely popular Jack Canfield’s (editor of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series) presentation of workplace spirituality, which fused Eastern and New Age thought with a smattering of Christian quotations to create a workplace spirituality that “makes your spirits soar and broadens your perspective of what it means to be fully human.”
There are, of course, many Christian books on being a Christian in the workplace; most Christians would readily agree that the overwhelming majority of Christians who hold positions in the secular workplace need to be equipped to live their faith at work. At the same time, however, it is also important to realize that the workplace spirituality movement generally has little to do with true Christianity – or “Christianity” of any stripe. Christians therefore need to be aware of the religious basis of much of the materials generated by the workplace spirituality movement, and to refute arguments which falsely attempt to link this spirituality – and business problems in general – to Christianity.
David Brooks recently wrote an interesting article about misplaced feelings of superiority in the scandal at Penn State. His point is that many people enjoy the belief that, had they been in a position to stop sexual abuse, they would have done so. In reality, however, most people suffer from either “Normalcy Bias” (in which people rationalize abominable circumstances by believing the atrocities they’ve seen are normal) or “Motivated Blindness” (in which people ignore situations they find potentially harmful to address).
There are several ways in which this is applicable to Christians concerned about apologetics and evangelism.
First, “normalcy bias” can be a problem within Christian churches. It is easy to see doctrinal changes within a church – particularly if these changes are made gradually over time – as simply a normal occurrence. Paul warned of this when he said to the Corinthians, “For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.” (2 Corinthians 11:4). It is therefore vital for Christians to always be like the Bereans who checked the Scriptures to see whether everything they were taught is in accordance with God’s word (Acts 17:11; cf. 1 John 4:1).
Christians aren’t the only ones who can suffer from “normalcy bias:” members of alternative religions can also do so. This is one of a number of reasons – including psychological strategies for coping with cognitive dissonance (such as denial), as well as the obvious problem of spiritual deception – why members of such groups can remain faithful members even after being presented with arguments and evidence that would seem to undermine (if not obliterate) the faith of a rational person. For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses will rationalize the Watchtower Society’s continually changing doctrines and prophecies as being normal developments within God’s organization.
We therefore need to be patient with members of other religions: it can be highly difficult for them to realize that their beliefs and practices are abnormal, and that they need to leave their religious group if they truly want to worship the true God.
Related to all of this is the problem of “motivated blindness.” Christians can be paralyzed when confronted with problems in their churches because they would risk a great deal by confronting the problems: friends, family, and in some cases even employment. The problem is the same for members of cults and alternative religions, who risk all of these things – and, according to the teaching of many groups, their salvation itself – if they confront doctrinal problems or issues in church governance.
The Bible warns us that there may unfortunately be occasions in which Christians are called to choose Christ, even though it means losing one’s family (Matthew 10:37) – a fact to which former Jehovah’s Witnesses can attest – and it likewise says that Christ’s followers can expect persecution (John 15:20; 2 Timothy 2:12; 1 Peter 4:12-13). The writer of Hebrews even lists some of the ways in which God’s followers have suffered for their faith (11:35-38). All this means that, as unpleasant as it can be, there are situations in which it may be necessary for Christians to suffer in order to stand up against false teachers.
At the same time, while the Bible says that these things may be necessary, this does not mean Christians should be blasÃ© about the suffering others are experiencing. We must be patient with members of other religions as they are presented with the Gospel: it may take a long time – sometimes many years – before their relationship with God is such that they are empowered to leave their group. Christian evangelism means more than simply sharing Christian teaching with others: it also means providing ongoing encouragement and support for people as they learn about God and grow in their fledgling relationship with him.
“Normalcy bias” and “motivated blindness” are serious problems, both inside and outside the Church. Understanding the problems, however, will equip us to better fulfill our calling and help others.
An individual wrote the following comment to a post on another website about the possible return to a “pre-modern future:”
You ask, “What will happen when absolutely everything is tolerated?”
I think the answer is, “There will never be a time when absolutely everything is tolerated.” Instead, there will simply be an intensification of the situation that exists now: some things will be accepted and promoted, and other things — particularly those which contradict or oppose the accepted things — will be confronted with increasing ferocity.
The only substantive differences between the ostensibly “tolerant” and the ostensibly “intolerant” are — and will increasingly be — the values, ethics and morals they either “tolerate” or refuse to “tolerate.” The ostensibly “tolerant” simply accept and promote things that were and are opposed by more traditionally-minded people, and oppose the more traditional values, ethics and morals.
The only things that will change are the values, etc. which were previously unaccepted by most people, but which the “tolerant” will drag into the open and demand be accepted and promoted by all people, and the increasing viciousness with which the “tolerant” will persecute the people who obstinately remain “intolerant” and refuse to accept and promote those things.
This emphasizes our vital need to “prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
The following was a comment to a post on another blog:
You are absolutely correct when you say, “The term (nephesh)…can refer to the self, emotion, desire, etc. and gets translated those ways depending on the context of the passage.’ This fits pretty well with English use of the term ‘soul.’”
It is true that nephesh can be interpreted as meaning simply one’s life (Judaism, of course, maintains this interpretation); Psalm 89:48 is frequently used to support this understanding.
At the same time, though, the attributes ascribed to the nephesh also imply more than simply the breath of life. The nephesh is shown as desiring food and drink (e.g., Deuteronomy 12:15; Isaiah 29:8). It’s also portrayed as a form of volition or free will (e.g., Deuteronomy 21:14; Jeremiah 44:14).
The nephesh is further used to describe one’s emotions (Jonah 2:7; Psalm 142:3).
The nephesh is also directly linked to our life in God: the psalmist’s nephesh thirsts for God (Psalm 42:2), and the nephesh is lifted up to God (Psalm 25:1).
It is not wonder, then, that nephesh is used for the entirety of the person (e.g., Genesis 12:13; Leviticus 11:43-44).
Looking into this term — not to mention other terms, like neshamah and ruach — gives us a wonderful look into humanity as God’s creation. It always saddens me when people cheapen this knowledge through misuse and misunderstanding.
You can find more about biblical Hebrew words for the soul in our article, “Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Immortal Soul,” as well as in the book, The Case for a Creator.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have made another bid for media attention by filing a lawsuit seeking to extend the 13th Amendment (banning slavery) to whales at SeaWorld. PETA argues that the 13th Amendment does not specifically limit is application to humans, and therefore other species should be granted constitutional protection.
It can be argued that PETA’s lawsuit is simply the latest in a long string of publicity stunts. It is that, of course, but the philosophy behind the suit is nonetheless significant for apologetics.
It has long been noted by people involved in pro-life work that PETA does not take an official position on abortion (in fact, PETA formally states that it is neutral regarding abortion issues). PETA’s refusal to protect infant humans is more than slightly hypocritical, given that they’ve taken interspecies protection so far as to label President Obama’s killing of a pesky fly during an interview as an “execution.”
Interestingly, PETA has been noted not only for its disregard for human infants, but has also been accused of racism, sexism, and even of being “sizest” and “fatphobic.”
Despite their presence in this article, I’m not actually focusing on PETA, but instead on the devaluing of humans by extremist groups (of which this lawsuit is simply the latest example).
There are countless examples of world and new religions devaluing humans (or, at least, humans who do not belong to their specific religious group). The Qur’an says Christians and Jews who refuse to convert to Islam are “the worst of creatures” (98:6). Jehovah’s Witnesses – as we noted in an earlier article – say former members are demonic and “mentally diseased.” The LDS Church taught that people of African descent are cursed by God. The Church of Scientology even refers to non-members as “WOGS” and “raw meat,” and L. Ron Hubbard said that some non-Scientologists “should not have, in any thinking society, any civil rights of any kind.”
Christian apologists must take seriously the challenge extremist groups – both religious and secular – present to the essential value and dignity of every human being. True, faithful apologetics exists, not to attack groups or people, but instead to defend not only the name of our God, but also the value of the people He wants to save (see John 3:16). Christian apologetics needs to always promote the value described by J.I. Packer and Thomas Howard, “To the Christian, every human being has intrinsic and inalienable dignity by virtue of being made in God’s image and realizes and exhibits the full potential of that dignity only in the worship and service of the Creator.”
In the midst of debates over moral issues it’s common to hear someone say, “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matthew 7:1). Ironically, the people most frequently proclaiming this verse are non-Christians, angrily using Jesus’ words to silence Christians who disagree with their lifestyle or agenda. Because we do not want to unnecessarily hurt other people, we might wonder: is Jesus really telling us to never judge anything or anyone?
As we look beyond the first verse we see that the problem is not with judgment itself: it’s why and how we judge. First, we must avoid becoming what Martin Luther sarcastically calls “Mr. Self-conceit, who is not liked either by God or the world, and yet is to be found everywhere.” Such a person can be found, he says, wherever “every one is satisfied only with what he does himself, and whatever others do must stink.” When we engage in such judgmentalism we are inflating our self-esteem and pride, about which Evagrius of Pontus (fourth-century Christian) says, “Self-esteem gives rise in turn to pride, which cast down from heaven to earth the highest of the angels.”
Secondly, the judgments we make must not be contaminated with our own hypocrisy. We are hypocrites when we focus on the mere”speck” of another person’s sin, while ignoring the gigantic, log-sized sin in our own lives (Matthew 7:3-5). John Chrysostom asks this, “So then, you who are so spiteful as to see even the little faulty details in others, how have you become so careless with your own affairs that you avoid your own major faults… So if you are really motivated by genuine concern, I urge you to show this concern for yourself first, because your own sin is both more certain and greater.”
We should always keep in mind that true judgment looks not only at sinfulness, but also at the good others do. Basil the Great, one of the most notable Christians of the fourth century, gives this advice for accurately judging others, “If you see your neighbor sinning, take care not to dwell exclusively on his faults. Try to think of the many good things he has done and continues to do. Many times when we do this, we come to the conclusion that our neighbor is a far better person than we are.”
At the same time, while we should look at others with love, this does not mean we accept or affirm all thoughts and actions. Matthew clearly demonstrates that Jesus is not forbidding judgment of any kind with verse six, where our Lord warns against giving holy things or pearls to dogs and swine, who will attempt to harm you and destroy the holy pearls. Augustine says, “We may rightly understand these words (dogs and swine) are now used to designate respectively those who assail the truth and those who resist it.” When encountering such people, Luther adds, we should “separate ourselves from him as we do from these factious spirits, and to have no fellowship with them, and administer no sacrament to them, impart no gospel consolation to them, but show them that they are not to enjoy anything of Christ: our treasure.” This is in keeping with other biblical passages, such as 1 Corinthians 5:11, 13, which make it clear that we are both to judge and to act in accordance with that judgment (and 1 John 4:1-6 even extends this to judging spirits).
“Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ” (1 Peter 3:15-16)
Few Christians would dispute that Christianity is under attack from increasingly militant opponents, both religious and anti-religious. Despite this adversity – or, more likely, as a result of it – there is also a growing interest in defending the faith. In fact, Lee Strobel even says, “We’re on the cusp of a golden age of apologetics.” He adds,
We’re seeing such scholars as William Lane Craig, J. P. Moreland, William Dembski, Stephen Meyer, and others making fresh, cutting-edge arguments for Christianity. Academia is taking notice. Terrific websites, like apologetics315.com, are making apologetic material more widely available. Younger leaders like Sean McDowell are taking apologetics to a new generation.
Strobel is talking about general Christian apologetics (rather than Watchman Fellowship’s focus on cults and alternative religions), but there is also a growing interest in academic institutions offering studies in cults and alternative religions (see, for example, Southern Evangelical Seminary’s Truth, Evangelism and Apologetics Mission).
There is a serious need for Christians to engage in apologetics and evangelism to cults and new religions. These groups are growing, and the groups present serious dangers – both spiritual and psychological – to their members. Furthermore, the problem of spiritual abuse [https://www.watchman.org/articles/cults-alternative-religions/elements-of-spiritual-abuse/] can be found even in mainstream churches. It is essential that Christians be equipped to reach out to others, to defend what they believe, and to confront problems that can occur in their own churches.
This is why Watchman Fellowship has three primary goals: to educate the community, to equip the church, and to evangelize the cults. Education is particularly important – we work both to provide information about cults and alternative religions through the mass media and other venues, and we give educational presentations on a wide variety of topics in churches.
If you are a pastor, feel free to contact us if you are interested in having Watchman Fellowship give a presentation or seminar in your church.
In addition to these presentations, we also offer free resources to anyone who asks. You can order a free subscription the Watchman Fellowship Profile, a four-page overview of the history, beliefs and practices of a group or religious figure; you can also order a free subscription to our newsletter, where you can learn the latest news about educational opportunities and resources.
Defending the faith is important – Watchman Fellowship will help you “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3).