Why Does God Allow Evil? By Clay Jones A Review

 

Author

Clay Jones is an associate professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, and the chairman of Ratio Christi, a campus apologetics alliance. He is a former talk show host and has served on the pastoral staff of several large churches. Jones received a BA in Philosophy from California State University, an MDiv from American Theological Seminary, and a DMin from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. (Because of his doctorate and the topic of this book, which is his main area of teaching, I lovingly refer to Clay as “Dr. Evil.)

 

Synopsis

A common complaint from skeptics as well as saints is that there is so much evil in the world. How is this possible if a good and loving God exists? While there are many well-reasoned arguments that show this is not a problem, it is still a challenging topic. It can be especially difficult to discern what is behind the question. Is it intellectual curiosity, skepticism seeking an excuse, or the gut-wrenching reality of the death or suffering of a loved-one. Each kind of questioner needs a different approach. For those in the third category, I would say this book is not for you right now. There is no book on this topic that will really meet your need. You don’t need a book. You need a community of people to come along side you, love you, and hurt with you through this. Go to your community and get the support you need. For those who want an answer, this book is for you. For those hoping to justify your skepticism with the Problem of Evil, I challenge you to read this book with an open mind.

Why God Allows Evil is written from the perspective of a Christian worldview. It offers answers based on what God has revealed in the Holy Bible. If you read this book assuming that Christianity is false, you will find the arguments within meaningless. That would be a great loss.

The book is divided into 11 chapters, with an introduction setting the stage and defining terms. Chapter 1 starts at the beginning, which is to say how evil was actualized by our first parents. Chapters 2 and 3 deal with the question of bad things happening to good people. Chapter 4 deals with the unevangelized, or “if people never hear about Jesus, how is it fair to punish them?” Chapter 5 addresses the fairness of Hell. Chapters 6, 7, and 8 deal with free will and how it plays into these questions. 9, 10, and 11 explain how eternity sets the context for the whole question. The book is then summarized on the epilogue, followed by an appendix that takes a stab at explaining the ultimate origin of evil.

 

Analysis

Having sat under Dr. Jones’ teaching on this material in graduate school, I could hear his voice in my head as I read this book. This was an advantage for me. However, for those who have never met him, it could be a challenge for you. Jones goes to great pains to express his heart for those who are wrestling with these issues, but because of his no-nonsense approach, that might not be obvious. He is offering tough answers to tough questions. Trust me when I tell you, he is giving these answers with a pastor’s heart.

From my studies of these issues under Jones and others, I agree with most of what he has to say in this volume. Jones ascribes almost all suffering and death to Adam’s sin and God’s curse on the earth that resulted. I am a little hesitant to agree. I realize Jones’ view is from what he would call “an unforced reading” of the Biblical data. What gives me pause is the number of things that have been discovered to be beneficial to life on earth that are often shown as examples of “natural evil.” For example, earthquakes, which unfortunately cause thousands of deaths around the world, are the result of a natural process, plate tectonics, that makes earth habitable. Hurricanes have a major role in regulating the climate of the planet. However, in the final analysis, I think Jones nails it. We suffer because of sin, ours and that of others, but our suffering will fade into insignificance in eternity.

This book is accessible to even the high school reader, but not dumbed down such that a reader with an advanced degree would be bored with it. It is a must read. I urge you to read it BEFORE you encounter a crisis..

 

A Practical Guide to Culture By Brett Kunkle and John Stonestreet: A Review

Authors

John Stonestreet is a President of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview and co-author (with William E. Brown and W. Gary Phillips) of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview. He holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Bryan College. He is also the cohost of Breakpoint with Eric Metaxas.

Brett Kunkle is the Student Impact Director for Stand to Reason. Brett received his bachelor’s degree in Christian education from Biola University. He has his master’s degree in philosophy of religion and ethics at Talbot School of Theology. Brett was a contributor to the Apologetics Study Bible for Students, has a chapter on truth in Apologetics for a New Generation, and wrote the Ambassador’s Guide to Mormonism.

 

Synopsis

A Practical Guide to Culture is written to help Christians, especially Christian parents, navigate a culture that is growing in its hostility to the Christian worldview. The book is organized into four parts. Part one lays out what culture is and why it is important to understand it. Part two explains how the current culture effects how we see ourselves, through the lenses of technology, identity, relationships and maturity. Part three deals with contemporary sexuality, and can serve as a reference guide. Part four wraps up dealing with the grounding of our Christian worldview.

 

Analysis

Kunkle and Stonestreet offer valuable insights into today’s culture and how to address it as Christians who are called to be “in the world but not of it.” The book is written in a very readable style, with a conversational tone that is accessible to high schoolers and those with advanced degrees alike. If you have children at home, if you hope to have children one day, or if you have any influence on children (or even adults) this book is a must-read.

 

 

 

 

 

Mind Over Matter: The Necessity of Metaphysics in a Material World By Brian M. and Wayne D. Rossiter A review

 

Authors

Brian Rossiter holds a Master’s degree in Theological Studies from Trevecca Nazarene University, and is an adjunct professor at Ohio Christian University, as well as a long-time high school teacher. Wayne Rossiter is Assistant Professor of Biology at Waynsburg University. He received his B.S. from Otterbein University, his M.S. from Ohio State University and his Ph.D. from Rutgers University. Dr. Rossiter teaches Principles of Biology, Ecology and Environmental Biology, and is the author of In the Shadow of Oz: Theistic Evolution and the Absent God. In Mind Over Matter, the Rossiters offer a tactical guide to responding to methodological and philosophical naturalism as espoused by atheistic scientists. (Methodological naturalism is a scientific method that assumes for anything under study, it is assumed that it is the product of natural causes and processes. Philosophical naturalism is the view that natural causes and processes are all that exist.)

 

Synopsis

Mind Over Matter is a short booklet, just 112 pages. It is arranged into four major sections and an appendix. The first three sections respond to arguments from science, philosophy, and the last section uses arguments from theism to respond to poor theistic arguments for naturalism. Each of these sections presents a series of claims made by naturalists (sloppy shorthand for those who hold to either form of naturalism), followed by citations from scientists who make these claims. A response is offered, and an explanation for why it is a good one. In the appendix, the Rossiters deal with the confusion which often ensues in discussion on evolution due to the ambiguous nature of the term. A critique is then offered of the Kalam Cosmological Argument, and the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument.

 

Analysis

Some of the arguments from science that this book addresses are great illustrations of the fact that scientists are often poor philosophers, but there is no straw-men attacked here. Most of the claims are substantive. Speaking of poor philosophy, the above-mentioned adage being true made the second section of the book fairly easy to write. One rejoinder I would offer refers to the response to Beghossian’s straw-man definition of “faith.” The suggested response is, “Could you please show me this definition in a dictionary or encyclopedia?”[1]  Dictionary.com offers the following, “strong or unshakeable belief in something, especially without proof or evidence.” Since dictionaries follow common usage rather than vice versa, and common usage has abandoned the usage found in the Bible, it may be time to use a different word.

Where this book really shines, as did In the Shadow of Oz, is the way theistic evolutionists, particularly those who are Christian, are shown to be inconsistent when they deny the possibility of miraculous creation on scientific grounds, while affirming miracles like the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Where I would find the book to go off track a little is exemplified by the claim that if God has complete foreknowledge then free will cannot exist is confused. It seems like Rossiter is applying the following logic:
(1) Necessarily, if God foreknows x, then x will happen.

(2) God foreknows x.

(3) Therefore, x will necessarily happen.[2]

 

As Craig points out, the error here is that the necessity is that (3) follows from (1) and (2) and (3) ought to say “Therefore x will happen.”[3]

 

Another area of disagreement comes with the treatment of the Kalam Cosmological Argument. Rossiter asserts, “That is, it doesn’t clearly follow that the cause of our universe must be timeless, spaceless, immaterial, or uncaused.” If you are explaining the cause of the beginning of time, the cause would have to exist timelessly. If you are explaining the beginning of space, the cause must be non-spatial. If you are explaining the origin of material, the cause cannot be material. Moreover, the core of the KCA is the impossibility of the existence of traversing an actual infinite. (You can’t count to infinity.) The only alternative to an uncaused cause is an infinite regress of causes. It is beyond the scope of this review to explicate the KCA, but the critique offered by Rossiter displays a fair amount of confusion.

 

Recommendation

For all the above problems. Mind Over Matter is a fine resource for helping people see the weakness of philosophical naturalism, and to some extent, methodological naturalism. It is refreshing to see a scientist (Wayne Rossiter) make an honest attempt to understand the philosophical aspects of his discipline. Even if I disagree with some of his views, his work in this area is head and shoulders above many of his colleagues, who are quite dismissive of philosophy.

I am not a fan of “When they say X, you say Y” formats, but to be fair, I have an advanced degree in this stuff, and it’s easy for me to forget what it’s like to not know this stuff. Most of the book is accessible to high schoolers and up. It would be a valuable addition to the lay apologist’s library.

 

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[1] Rossiter, Wayne; Rossiter, Brian (2016-02-04). Mind Over Matter: The Necessity of Metaphysics in a Material World (Kindle Location 867). Athanatos Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

 

 

[2] James K. Beilby;Paul R. Eddy. Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views (p. 126). Kindle Edition.

 

[3] Ibid.

 

Forensic Faith By J.Warner Wallace A Review

Forensic FaithBy J.Warner Wallace

A Review

 J.Warner Wallace is a retired cold case homicide detective who has applied his unique experience to Christianity in his books Cold Case Christianity and God’s Crime Scene. In Forensic Faith, Wallace makes the case for case-making. We are not all called to be detectives, but Wallace notes we are called to be case-makers, and offers his insights as to how we can effectively make the case for Christianity.

 While apologetics has been making a comeback in recent years, there is still a lot of resistance to the idea within the church. As noted here, there are still leaders in the church who think faith that is not grounded in reasons and evidence is somehow more “pure.” Wallace’s book is part of a growing effort to correct this misconception.

Synopsis

 The book is only 224 pages, but there is a lot of insight and information in a small package. In his preface, Wallace distinguishes between belief that happens to be right and knowledge grounded in reasons. He notes that many, if not most Christians hold a true belief, but are not prepared to defend that belief. In chapter 1, Wallace lays out an argument for why Christians ought to be able to defend the faith, giving five examples. In chapter 2, training is emphasized over teaching, noting that training is what prepares you for action. Five steps for training are laid out. In chapter 3, Wallace explains the necessity for research and continuing preparation and offers five things we can do to apply this. Chapter 4 then offers five ways you can make you case like a good prosecutor. These chapters are followed by notes for further study and links to more resources.

Analysis

 Forensic Faith is yet another example of Wallace’s gift for communication. He supplements the text with useful illustrations (which he draws himself) and examples from his extensive experience as a detective. What I found especially helpful was his response to those who claim “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. For one, he notes how extraordinary the claim is when he accuses someone of murder, and how they are convicted by ordinary evidence. Moreover, the alternative claims skeptics offer are no less “extraordinary” yet they do not offer extraordinary evidence for them.

 One issue I would approach a little differently than Wallace is in his description of the answers he gets when he asks Christians why they believe what they do. I agree with him that they are unable to defend what they believe. However, I would not characterize this as belief without evidence or reasons. As Wallace himself points out, almost anything counts as evidence. When someone comes to faith, typically it is (on a human level) after they have heard the Gospel from someone they trust. If their parents, or their pastor tell them Christianity is true, and they have reasons to trust their parents and/or their pastor, then this trustworthiness counts and evidence. I realize that if this is all they have, it is of very limited value when it comes to defending their beliefs, but it is still evidence. As such, I would offer this to those skeptics who claim such people have no evidence. I would also offer it to those who think they need no evidence.

Recommendation

The structure of the book, each with an alliterated title (and the Baptists rejoiced) and five points of application (and all the apologists rejoiced) is easy to follow. This book is accessible for readers from middle school through graduate school. It is a must-read for all Christians. Did I mention it’s a good book?

Did Adam and Eve Exist? Who They Were and Why You Should Care By C. John Collins A Review

Author

 Were Adam and Eve real people? Did all of humanity really originate from these two, or a larger population? Were they created directly by God, or did they evolve from an ancestral precursor? Does it matter theologically?

C. John Collins is a Professor of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary. He received a BS and MS in Computer Science and Systems Engineering from MIT, an MDiv from Faith Evangelical Lutheran Seminary, and a PhD in Hebrew Language from the University of Liverpool. In Did Adam and Eve Exist, Collins addresses these questions.

Background

Among theologians, historians, archaeologists, others who study the Ancient Near East (ANE) there has been an ongoing debate over how much of the Old and New Testament narratives contain actual historical events. Within these discussions are further differences concerning the question of inerrancy, and what that even means, and the implications for theology for the varying views. One of the key issues is whether Adam and Eve were actual historical persons, how they came to be, and how their disobedience effects the rest of humanity.

Thesis

Questions of the origin of modern humans are of interest to those both inside and outside the church, however since the purpose of this work focus on theological and pastoral concerns, the scientific aspects, while important, are secondary. Naturalistic scientists are only interested in when where and how humanity developed. However, theologically, we seek to understand how these answers make sense of our origin, problem, and the solutions proposed by Christianity. It is Collins’ view that the relevant texts of the Old and New Testament, as well as ancient non-canonical Jewish writings, strongly suggest Adam and Eve were actual persons. Moreover, the traditional view makes the best sense of our experience, and of Christian theology.

Synopsis

In his introduction, Collins lays out the issues, and explains the criteria he uses to answer the relevant questions. The three key questions he applies are(18-19):

1. How does the person or event impact the basic story line? (Basic story line here refers to the overarching story of the entire Bible.)

2. How have other writers, especially Biblical ones, taken this person or event?

3. How does this person or event relate to ordinary human experience?

Chapter 2 lays out how the entire Biblical narrative fits together. In chapter 3, Collins addresses specific Biblical and extra biblical texts that refer to Adam and Eve. Chapter 4 discusses the implications of human origins for the Image of God, human dignity, and our common experience. Chapter 5 contains an analysis of the relationship between science and the Biblical data, and how this is best approached. In his conclusion, Collins sums up his arguments, their implications, and offers a personal application. Additionally, there are three helpful appendices. The first addresses comparisons of Genesis with other ANE texts, the second is a book review, and the third dealing with the dating of the Book of Genesis.

Analysis

 Any critique of this book, in order to be fair, must keep in mind the intended audience. A non-believer in Judaism or Christianity my find this book lacking in a compelling argument for the historical existence of Adam and Eve. However, while there is a publicly accessible argument for their veracity, the bulk of the argument assumes a shared theism, and at least some reverence for the Bible. As such, the critique needs to address the argument being offered, not the ones it does not. Going back to Collins’ criteria, how well does he defend his views? Adam and Eve, as real historical individuals makes better sense of all that follows in redemptive history than a fictitious couple. Moreover, Collins shows that other Biblical writers, as well as texts outside the canon, treat Adam and Eve as real people. Finally, Collins demonstrates the explanatory power that a real couple offers for our common experience. There are aspects of the support Collins cites that are out of date. (Which Collins would acknowledge.) On page 82, Collins cites N.T. Wright from a book where he offers such support. However, Wright has since changed his mind on this.

 Not all critiques come from a position that negate Collins’ criteria, but simply dismiss their significance. In works such as Adam and the Genome, McKnight and Vennema argue that Paul believed that Adam was a real person, but he didn’t get this from modern science, so he can’t be right about that. (I realize this is a gross oversimplification, but I will address this more thoroughly in a forthcoming review.)

Recommendation

 Collins’ book is a valuable resource for anyone interested in the issues of how the grand narrative of the Bible fits together. He makes an excellent case for the historical reality of the pair, Adam and Eve, and the implications this has for theology and for life. He does so with an irenic tone, and a caution that does not go beyond the evidence. Rather than staking claims on issues such as the age of the universe, or even creation versus evolution, he simply shows what can be allowed within a faithful reading of the text in its historical and literary context. His book is accessible for a high school level reader. Did Adam and Eve Exist, as well as Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary and Theological Commentary are “must have’s” for anyone who cares about these issues.

The Case for Christ: a Review

Having seen a number of movies produced by Pure Flix, I was a little skeptical in my expectations for The Case for Christ. However, before I had a chance to see it, I saw a number of posts on social media by people whom I respect that suggested this would be worth seeing. As a fan of Lee Strobel, I would have seen it anyway, but I am happy to say that this was an excellent movie. (I suppose it helps that it was grounded in a real life story.)

For those who may not know, Strobel is a graduate of Yale Law School and is currently a Professor of Christian Thought at Houston Baptist University. He is also the author of a book by the same name as the movie, as well as eight other books.

The movie covers the story of Strobel’s (SPOILER ALERT) conversion to Christianity. He had been an atheist who was employed as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune. He was married, and up to this point in his life, his wife share his atheistic beliefs. A crisis caused her to reexamine her beliefs, leading her to become a Christian.

Strobel finds this unacceptable and embarks on a research project to debunk Christianity. He interviews scholars theology, history, archaeology, psychology, and medicine. On the advice of a Christian, he hopes to prove the resurrection never happened.

Knowing Strobel had to have had some input into the making of the movie, I appreciate his honesty in the portrayal. He was not an easy man for his wife to live with. I was also deeply moved by the scenes related to his father’s death.

As the film ended, I said, (as an apologist) “This is why I do what I do.” It also occurred to me that if he hadn’t become famous, those scholars who took so much time to talk to him might never have known how their efforts bore fruit. It can be hard to work at something if you don’t see the outcome, but that is what we are often called to do.

Kudos to Pure Flix for making a good movie.

The Shack: The Good, the Bad, and the Moinks

The Shack, by William Paul Young has sold more than 20 million copies worldwide since its publication in 2007. It has now been made into a major motion picture. Having heard and read many fine reviews of each, I thought I would see the movie for myself and get a sense of it.

Synopsis

The story surrounds the life of a man named MacKenzie Philips, (not toe be confused with the actress by the same name) who grows up with an abusive father who is an elder in his church. He later marries and has three kids. His youngest, his baby, is kidnapped and murdered. In the midst of his grief he meets God. After spending a weekend with the three Persons, he finally comes to some closure on the death of his daughter, as well as the abusive father. He returns home where he begins helping his family heal.

The Good

The way the Problem of Evil is addressed is well done, pointing out that the creation of free creatures entails the possibility for evil and suffering. Moreover, Mac is forced to admit that when he is the judge he cannot pass his own standards. Additionally, he is presented with a situation in which he must choose for one of his children to be saved and another to be damned. His response is to offer himself, and in so doing he comes to better understand the heart of God for the lost.

The love of God is portrayed in a moving way that can inspire the viewer to love God more. (More on this in the Moinks) The whole story is powerful in its emotional appeal. It is so easy to identify with Mac, to feel his pain, and to celebrate the resolution in the lives of sympathetic characters. Who doesn’t love a story where brokenness is healed and reconciliation is attained. I sure do. I won’t say too much about my own emotional reactions lest I be required to surrender my man card.

The Bad

While I understand that the book on which the movie is based is a novel, make no mistake, the author intends to persuade with the book and the movie. In fact, he has since published a nonfiction book, Lies We Believe About God. Unfortunately, what Young wants to persuade you of is that God does not judge, is not in control, and that hell does not exist, that Jesus’ death on the cross had nothing to do with sin. In fact, sin is not even a thing on Young’s view. Young would also have us believe that all are going to be reconciled to God. No need for faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  (While some have objected to portraying God as a woman, I don’t think that is such a big deal, especially considering the more serious problems.)

The Moinks

“Okay, wait a minute. What’s a moink?” I’m glad you asked. A moink is a bacon-wrapped meatball coated with a glaze. (Ok, I just had to stop typing to clean the drool off the keyboard.) What have moinks got to do with The Shack? Another great question. In the movie, Mac puts strychnine poison in his father’s booze. (The implication is that he killed him, but that wasn’t 100% clear to me unless I missed an important scene.) The point is that Mac at least tried to poison his father by mixing a toxic substance with something his father liked. Likewise, the dangerously bad theology (any theology that suggests that you have no need to be reconciled to God is dangerously bad) wrapped in such a wonderful story is like putting strychnine in moinks. You would die smiling, but you would die.

Really, the danger of The Shack is an illustration of the danger of taking any form of entertainment in uncritically. We must always think through what we consume with our minds fully engaged. The risk of well-made movies is that the viewer is invited to lose herself in the story. When you do that, ideas are presented in a way that can bypass your reasoning faculties, appealing to your emotions in a powerful way. Emotions are wonderful servants, but terrible masters. If you read the book or watch the movie, do NOT turn your mind off. Remember, we are to love God with all our minds.