Friday, August 31, 2018

Elliot Miller's "The Odd Faith Out"

I haven't been by for a while, and last time I was here I explained a bit about why. In April 2018, a dear friend of mine passed away: Elliot Miller, editor in chief of the Christian Research Journal. In the wake of his passing, I was asked by his wife to take up the completion of a project he did not finish -- a book on spirituality with the title The Odd Faith Out.

By "completion" I don't mean I did any writing or original research. The book was a work in progress, and Elliot left behind some notes and ideas for how he planned to complete it. His plan called for a book three times the size of what was in the manuscript. All I did was add a few easing transitional phrases between sections and write a brief foreword. The rest is pretty much as Elliot left it.

It's been published now because more than anything else, Elliot wanted to be sure it could get into the hands of others who needed the information it provided. That's also why the price has been set extremely low (99 cents) -- as low as Amazon would allow, actually.

I will be back again later in September. In the meantime, we hope that this final work by Elliot will be a blessing to all who read it.

t

Friday, June 15, 2018

A Tribute to Elliot Miller

A few weeks ago, we received the sad news that a dear friend and colleague had passed away. Elliot Miller was the chief editor of the Christian Research Journal, and for many years he was an active presence in apologetics for the Christian Research Institute. Elliot was also a good friend of mine, and he and our wives would get together at least twice a year in person to enjoy our shared interest in natural wonders and hiking at state parks. He and his wife were also among the only people we knew who also enjoyed visiting museums and other informational exhibits. 

We met this past weekend with his wife to see her one last time before she moved back to California (though we also plan to visit here there in coming months). He and Corinne had moved to Florida some years ago, to semi-retire, which is how we started the tradition of meeting twice a year. They lived down on Florida's southeast coast, a two hour drive away from us. 

Elliot had a great sense of humor. I showed him a few of my TektonTV videos, and he always got a hearty laugh out of them. I remember he especially enjoyed the one where I used the fiction of a time machine to bring together versions of Hal Lindsey from various decades (70s, 80s, 90s, and 2010s) who then confronted each other with their own errors. Like me, he had little patience with the constantly erroneous end times salesmen who kept changing their tune each time their predictions went awry. He was also a prolific writer, and his volumes of research work, especially on cults and Eastern mysticism, will continue to provide value for seekers in the years to come. And of course, he was an able juggler of the many responsibilities that went into editing and publishing the leading Christian apologetics journal in the world.

I offer this tribute as a way to say goodbye to him as a friend and colleague, but also to say that there's a certain torch I have pledged to take up for him, and that will be gladly occupying my time for a while. I'll release more details when they become available. 

  We will miss you, Elliot. See you again soon.

Friday, June 1, 2018

The Stewed Tomato Trap

As Jesse Duplantis begs for $54 million to buy a jet plane, let's remember this little ditty popularized by Josh McDowell (though I am sure he didn't originate the basic idea):

For example, suppose a student comes into the room and says, “Hey-I have a stewed tomato in my right tennis shoe. This tomato has changed my life. It has given me peace and love and joy that I never experienced before.” It’s hard to argue with a student like that if his life backs up what he says. 

Yes, it's hard to argue with a student like that, but it's not because his life backs up what he says.  It's because we long ago fell into this trap where subjective experience trumps objective fact.

In an objective sense, you could run that student in circles with arguments on why the stewed tomato isn't that cause of his peace. The most obvious point is that it has the bearing of the tail wagging the dog. But the real reason you can't argue with this student is because all the relevant data is locked away in his skull behind a wall of what some politely call confirmation bias. You can't argue with it if the student wants it to be true.

The corollary point to this is where we segue into Duplantis' $54 million excursion into foolishness. This is just the latest of so many examples. (Who remembers Oral Roberts saying God would "call him home" if his followers didn't pony up $8 million? Oral's people were getting a relative bargain.) It is also the fruit of the stewed tomato trap. Under the assumption that you can't argue with experiences of peace, love and joy, it follows as a corollary in the minds of critics that you also can't argue with expressions of greed, selfishness, and dissatisfaction. Christianity (the stewed tomato) has changed Duplantis' life this way? No thanks. Directions to the nearest Buddhist temple, please.

McDowell used the stewed tomato analogy a lot in his time. It was no surprise then that when I asked him some questions many years ago, he said that he never started with apologetics when talking to people and that his apologetics works were not meant to be evangelistic tools. He said as much as well in Evidence That Demands A Verdict: His goal was to use apologetics to answer questions so he could get back to presenting the stewed tomato.

Attitudes like this are no aid to apologetics, and foolish excursions like the one Duplantis is on only make the job of apologetics harder. Thanks to the stewed tomato trap, it is hard to argue against it.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Christianity vs. The Modern World?



Today I have a guest piece by regular E-Block contributor Caleb Strom.

***

This past November, there was an international Flat Earth Conference where people from around the globe gathered to talk about the fact that Earth is not a globe. The irony is hard to ignore. I have been hearing more from flat earthers in recent years. Ten years ago, it seemed that almost all flat earthers were trolls and that the only genuine flat earthers were obscure tin-foil hat wearing conspiracy theorists who only existed on shady internet discussion forums where topics such as Barack Obama being a Reptilian and the Holocaust being a hoax were also common subjects of discussion. 
 
For the most part, that remains to be true. All flat earthers I have encountered are conspiracy theorists. One thing that is different is that they are much more vocal than they used to be. Certain flat earthers are now traveling to different churches giving talks about how the modern scientific cosmology is a deception to lead the world astray and pave the way for the rule of the anti-Christ. I wish I was joking about the last part. 

This increase in the ubiquity of flat earthers may be related to the general distrust that people have of experts these days in the wake of the recent election. This is after all, the age of alternative facts. If you don’t want to believe experts about politics, Earth’s climate or whether vaccines cause autism, why believe experts about the shape of the earth? 

At any rate, what I found striking about this flat earth phenomenon that relates to Christian apologetics is that these flat earth believers sounded exactly like new atheists. These flat earth believers, like new atheists, believe that modern science and the Bible are incompatible. The only difference is where they fall on the divide. For new atheists, since the Bible and science appear to contradict, the Bible must be wrong. For the flat earthers since their interpretation of the Bible and modern science contradict, modern science must be wrong.
Heliocentrism, the sphericity of the earth (it’s technically an oblate spheroid), and most of modern physics are seen by these flat earthers as being anti-Christian and an attempt to undermine Biblical authority and the Christian worldview. This is in spite of the fact that the scientists who championed heliocentrism originally were devout Christians. In fact most of the founders of modern science were Christians whether you look at astronomy, physics, biology, chemistry, or even geology. This is interestingly the exact same argument I would use if I was talking to an atheist who was telling me that Christianity was anti-science. 

Both groups interestingly display the same simplistic binary thinking with respect to Christianity and science and both seem to have accepted the conflict thesis, that science and religion are always in conflict. 

Although I am not worried that flat earthers are going to take over Christianity, what this odd little collection of conspiracy theorists reflects is more troubling. It reflects the larger reality of how many Christians have bought into the idea that modern science and the modern world in general are a threat to Christianity. Many see Christianity as outdated in an age of electricity, nuclear power, democracy, capitalism, and technology that can send us to other worlds. Christianity seems like outdated superstition to many. It is not just non-Christians who believe this but Christians as well.

Another, more serious version of this view of Christianity and the modern world being in conflict is the more recent Benedict Option in politics to withdraw as the culture becomes increasingly post-Christian and anti-Christian. Is it true? Do we have to now simply withdraw from the modern world and try to reconstruct the world of the Middle Ages when orthodox apostolic Christianity was synonymous with reality as far as the culture was concerned?

Simply going back to the Middle Ages, the Byzantine period, or any other time perceived as golden age for Christianity is not possible, and it is probably not desirable either. Although there were good things about the Middle Ages, there were other things about the Middle Ages which were not as good and the modern world is a legitimate improvement in those areas such as living standards. I also do not think it is necessary.

First of all, much of the modern world was brought into being partly because of Christianity. Modern western science, political thought, and economics were all influenced by Christianity in one way or another even if they have all gone astray recently. If they were once in line with Christian thought, they can be brought back into alignment. This of course will require Christians to think seriously about how their faith relates to the world and how they can show that Christianity has relevance in these areas and not simply deny reality and accuse everyone who disagrees with them of being a conspiracy theorist.
Another thing to consider is that just because the modern world is in some ways in conflict with Christianity does not mean it can never be reconciled. 

Christianity grew up in the context of the pagan Greco-Roman world which was at first very hostile to Christianity. Over time however, the early church fathers and other theologians such as Saint Thomas Aquinas and Saint Augustine were able to find ways to connect Christianity and the Hellenistic world to show that they had common ground. In a few centuries, Christian theology and classical thought had been so completely reconciled that it was hard to tell the difference between Catholic Christian thought and Aristotelian thought. 

In Hellenistic times, there were also Christians who thought that the Hellenistic world and science were at odds with Christian thought. The monk Cosmas Indicopleustes, who was one of the very few early Christian writers to actually believe in a flat earth, believed that all Hellenistic thought should be rejected because it was pagan. That is in fact why he rejected Ptolemaic geocentrism, the mainstream science of the day, because it was a Greek idea, and thus, in his mind, a pagan one.

This struggle in the early Church over how to relate to the Hellenistic world sounds rather similar to the modern struggle in the church with adapting to the increasingly non-Christian modern world. If the early Christians were able to reconcile their faith and worldview with their world, why can’t we do the same with ours?

This is one of the purposes of apologetics, taking ideas that may be contrary to Christianity and molding them so that they can be reconciled with Christianity. We should not run from modern science or deny it, but engage it and show that Christianity is not in conflict with it but can be reconciled. We also need to do this with the rest of the modern world. In the same way that Medieval theologians created a grand synthesis of Christian and Classical thought, perhaps in our age, we need a synthesis of Christian and “modern” thought.

Friday, October 13, 2017

New Ministry: Apologetics Afield

Update: The goal for the ministry has been met. Thank you!

**


As some of you are aware, I formally closed down Tekton as a 501(c)(3) organization in 2016. The reason I did this will be discussed later and elsewhere. However, the close-down fit well into plans I had anyway, and allowed me to begin a new ministry devoted to something I have had a heart for, for a long time: Bringing apologetics to the mission field. 

As I explain in the 2018 Ministry Manifesto, Tekton’s old missions have been split into two parts. In formal terms, my writing of ebooks (and production of audio books), and the production of videos, are now strictly personal pursuits. There are ways to support those missions, but they do not involve tax-deductible donations.

The other aspects of the former Tekton mission, have been subsumed by a new ministry I have named Apologetics Afield. Unlike Tekton, Apologetics Afield will have no online presence and will not publish anything, other than a blog which may be found linked below. This blog announces specific projects of Apologetics Afield and specifies fundraising for those projects. It has not published, and will not publish, anything else or anywhere else. 

The goal of Apologetics Afield will be to go on apologetics “missions” in the field. This will include such things are the apologetics boot camp for youth, but it also will include ventures to churches and other organizations out in the field, whether within America or (eventually) overseas. 

For 2018, we have fixed a commitment to visit a church in Philadelphia associated with an Indonesian fellowship I regularly attend, and I plan to add at least one more such event before the end of the ministry year. I have instituted a fundraising goal of $4,000 for the coming ministry year; as of this writing, between pledges and gifts, that goal has been met about halfway.

If you’d like to assist in the meeting of this goal, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to the Apologetics Afield ministry via the link found at


Friday, September 15, 2017

Irma Postmortem

I appreciate the many concerned contacts and questions from those who ask how things went for us with Hurricane Irma. Here's the sum of it.


By the time Irma reached us, it had been significantly weakened by its trip over land and by an influx of dry air (in hurricane terms, cyanide) from the west. The south half of the storm virtually disappeared as a hurricane. The ragged remnants of the north eye wall went right over us, but by then much of its force had been spent.


Our home suffered no damage. The only sign on our property that the storm had passed was that several of our trees had lost many of their leaves, and one oleander in the back lost a limb.


Our power went out at 9:50 PM on Sunday night and was restored around 5 PM on Tuesday. I'm not sure why it was restored so quickly, but it may have to do with our proximity to two major east-west thoroughfares and a hospital.


Since I had no idea how long power might be out, I elected to find us a cheap but clean dog-friendly motel to stay in the next two nights. My thought had been that if we had to be away longer, I'd look for a place where I could set up shop and still do work. It proved unnecessary. Irma personally cost us maybe $200 in motel rates and food purchases in the end.


Orlando as a whole was not as seriously affected by the storm as locations you will see in the news like Naples and Fort Myers. There is no massive scale of suffering here. A few low-lying areas are flooded; none are near me. Lakes and ponds that had been nearly dry in May due to a drought are now full or near overflowing. Some 15-20% of my county (Orange) remained without power as of last night. Many gas stations are closed, but fuel is available if you don't mind waiting a few minutes behind 1-2 people. (Having a Prius is a good feeling at times like this.)


Grocery stores are short on a few necessities like bread and milk, but only the crowd addicted to caviar and crème fresh is "suffering" for this lack. A fair number of volunteers are stepping up to serve those in need. Ice is also hard to get; we helped one of Mrs. H's co-workers by freezing some water in gallon bags for them. Cocoa's favorite park for a walk was closed because of trees being down.


The sum of it is, Irma was an inconvenience here for us personally, not a disaster. I encourage you to give to help those in need in other areas.


I have some major news upcoming, and this blog will next be updated when I have that news ready. In the meantime, I will post on the Christian CADRE blog when I have something to write about.













Friday, September 8, 2017

The Hurricane and the Trollstorm

I’m in the Cone of Doom for Hurricane Irma here in Central Florida; it’s probably about the 10th time in my life I’ve been in that range for a hurricane, and this is probably the 40th time in my life I’ve experienced the dance that goes with one of these. Such are the perils of Florida nativehood and residence. But today I want to mention another associated peril that isn’t life-threatening, although it rates as high on the Saffir-Simpson scale as Irma does. I’m talking about long-winded blowhard fundamentalist and fundamentalist-atheist trolls.

Every time we get a hurricane, you see members of this crowd show up in the comments section of news stories. On the fundamentalist side, you’ll get the loonies who say that we’re getting hit with this thing because we approved gay marriage, or because we voted for Donald Trump, or because we let the Seminole Indians open bingo parlors. On the fundy atheist side, you’ll get the crackpot troll who savages each and any expression of prayer by taking a few moments of his valuable time to copy and paste (mentally, if not actually) an extended rant about how your sky daddy isn’t going to save you from a Category 5.

These two pests are two sides of the same coin. They’re both immature trolls with a theology that wouldn’t pass muster in a pre-K setting. They also clearly need something better to do, because they’re spending too much time evangelizing for their cause, and they’re doing it in a way that’s not much different than the guy with the Chick tract whose initial friendly greeting to you is, “Hello, do you realize you’re going to hell?”

They also have this in common: They’re both too dense to see why they are trolls. The fundy thinks he’s helping save you from Satan. The fundy atheist thinks he’s helping save you from spiritual immaturity (and in some cases, from voting for Trump again in 2020). You have to ask yourself why they bother. The likely answer is that they are vultures who are far too concerned with inserting ideology into every discussion, no matter how inappropriate it may be in context. These are guys who would make tactless rats of themselves in a funeral parlor, to the point of slipping the latest Jack Chick or Dan Barker tract into the casket at the viewing, just in case.

Anyway, with the current forecast, I expect to be out of power for at least a day or two; so if you don’t hear from me next week, there’s a good reason for it.

I’m out hunting trolls.