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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Is Blind Faith “Pure” Faith?

I recently heard someone I respect a great deal state that faith that does not depend on reasons or evidence a more “pure” faith. Is this really the case?

Before I address this, let me state at the beginning here that I don’t think genuine faith is ever blind. I am sympathetic to what Alvin Plantinga calls “reformed epistemology” which is the idea that a person’s belief in the existence of God and the truth of Christianity are properly basic because of the inner witness of the Holy Spirit. This means they are rational in believing, even if they cannot articulate an argument for their truth. To be clear, this is not evidence it is true that is accessible to anyone else. As such, that person’s faith is not really blind.

So what reason might a Christian have for thinking faith without arguments and evidence is more pure than faith supported by reasons and evidence? In Luke 18:17, Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”  Does this mean that since children don’t need evidence and argument, then we shouldn’t either? In the context of this short passage where children are brought to Jesus, the emphasis seems to be on humility, rather than credulity. As Darrell Bock points out, “What is commended in children is their inherent dependence, for they bring nothing but themselves to the feet of Jesus.”1  However, why would children come to Jesus? The text says they were brought to him. A child would come to Jesus because someone they trusted brought them to him. So it would seem that this passage (and its parallels in the other synoptics) do not support the idea that child-like reception of the kingdom is a faith without reason.

Another passage sometimes used to argue against arguments (can’t escape them can you?) is John 20:29, “Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.'” In this passage, “doubting Thomas seems to be getting castigated for demanding evidence that Jesus rose from the dead. (Note the link. I deal with this incident there.) In the context, Thomas was making demands in spite of the testimony of people he knew were trustworthy. In fact, if you go to the next verse, it says, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” Jesus did miracles because they gave evidence of his claims. He made claims about himself of things you could not see, and supported them with acts you could see. If this is unclear, read Matthew 9:2-8, Mark 2:3-12 or Luke 5:18-26. Each of these tells the account of the paralytic brought to Jesus by four of his friends. Jesus declares the man’s sins forgiven, and heals him for the expressed purpose of proving his authority to do so.

Plantinga’s idea refers to Romans 8: 16 where Paul writes, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God…” As such, a Christian can have assurance of his salvation even if he cannot articulate it. However, this assurance can be difficult to articulate to someone who has not experienced it. Moreover, how does the Christian respond to the Mormon who claims a “burning in the bossom” as evidence of the truth of Mormonism? Moreover, when faced with the challenges of skeptics, your children will need the support of reasons why their faith is well grounded.
In 2 Corinthians 10, Paul writes, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God…” This is done by, as Peter tells us, “…in your hearts honor(ing) Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…” (1 Peter 3:15)

Faith that is grounded in nothing more than the inner witness of the Holy Spirit is real faith. It is even rational faith. However, faith bolstered by arguments and evidence is faith that is more stable, and arguably, more Christ-like, and it is more obedient to God’s word.

 

1 Bock, Darrell L.; Bock, Darrell L. (2009-08-19). Luke: The NIV Application Commentary from Biblical Text to Contemporary Life (pp. 462-463). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

The Story of Reality by Gregory Koukl: a Review

The Story of Reality hits the market on January 10th. I received an advanced copy.

Author

Greg Koukl is the founder and president of Stand to Reason, a ministry that “ …trains Christians to think more clearly about their faith and to make an even-handed, incisive, yet gracious defense for classical Christianity and classical Christian values in the public square.” Koukl has master’s degrees in Christian Apologetics and Philosophy, and is the author of Tactics: a Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions and co-author with Francis Beckwith of Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air.

 

Synopsis

The Story of Reality is arranged in six parts, for a total of twenty-five chapters. Following an introductory section, the next five parts follow the broad outline of the Christian worldview according to Koukl: God, Man, Jesus, Cross, and Resurrection.

In the Introduction, Koukl argues that Christianity is more than a mere religion, but a full worldview, touching all areas of reality. If a worldview is like a jigsaw puzzle, you can only make sense of it if you use the pieces that belong, and only put them where they belong.

Koukl goes on to note that a coherent worldview tells a story. Like all good stories, the story of Reality tells you what the setting of all of reality is, how we got here, what went wrong, how it gets fixed, and how it all works out in the end, or as the subtitle say, “How the world began, how it ends, and everything important that happens in between.”

Since the claim is that Christianity has the true story, then if this is true, if follows that competing stories are false. Koukl notes two common objections, the Problem of Evil and Christian exclusivism, but that evil is only a problem if the story is true, and likewise, if the story is true, so is the solution in the story.

In Part 1, Koukl tells us the story starts with God because it is about God and his kingdom. God made the world and all that is in it, therefore it is his to do with as he pleases, and is distinct from his creation. Part 1 also addresses the “Who made God?” and miracles objections, and refutes materialism and idealism.

Part 2 deals with Man as a body/soul unity made in God’s image, who then rebelled against God. The problem of evil comes up again in this context, and divine justice.

Part 3 explains how God became man in Jesus Christ, defends his historicity, his nature and his mission.

In Part 4, Koukl explains God’s rescue mission, culminating in The Trade. He then explains how we come to benefit from this.

Part 5 includes a brief, “minimal facts” defense of the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus, and how this gives us hope that we too will be raised to life at the end. This is the hope that helps us deal with the long battle in between. Koukl also presents a defense of the doctrine of Hell as eternal conscious torment. In other words, perfect justice and perfect mercy.

In the Epilogue, Koukl recaps the whole story.

 

Analysis

As a long-time listener to Koukl’s STR broadcast, I was quite familiar with his views on these issues, and his gift for communicating them. This book is like a snapshot of the best of his show with respect to the basics of the Christian faith. Listening to Koukl speak sometimes feels like talking with a favorite uncle, or an old friend. His warmth comes through in this book as well. (Though I can imagine the audio book, which he reads himself, will be even more enjoyable in this respect.)

Koukl is also a very careful thinker, as one might expect from someone with an MA in Philosophy. I have benefitted greatly from his teaching over the last 20 years or so. However, this is what makes a small detail of the book more troubling. (Just an oversight, maybe?) On page 43, Koukl writes “…(the story) begins with a person.” I know Koukl is a strong believer and defender of Trinitarian theology. He later gives a good introductory level explanation of the Trinity. In light of this, it seems odd that he would put this here, leaving the story open to the charge that it is incoherent, believing God is one Person and three Persons. It would seem like a less confusing way to say it might be “…(the story) begins with a personal being.”

That such a small detail stands out so much is an indication of just how good this book is. The Story of Reality is engaging, and well suited to the task of helping people see the big picture of the Christian worldview. Believers can benefit from learning how all the elements of the story fit together. Non-believers can get a sense of the story they are invited to participate in. It is accessible for high school level readers, but robust enough for those with higher levels of education. I cannot recommend this book more strongly.

Get it, read it, and share it.

 

 

 

Improbable Planet by Hugh Ross: a Review

Author

Hugh Ross is an astrophysicist with a PhD from the University of Toronto. He is also the founder and president of Reasons to Believe, a science/faith think tank. In the ongoing conversation between people of faith and those who are not over the philosophy of science, the phrase “god-of-the-gaps” is often tossed around as an accusation against those who hold to some view of divine design or creation. It is claimed that the view is “we don’t know how this came about, so God must have done it.” This dismissal ignores the fact that design proponents who are theists (and not all are) have many lines of argumentation that show the rationality of belief in God. When apparent design is cited as evidence of God’s existence, it is not for the purpose of filling a gap in knowledge, but inferring from what is known. Ross does this very well in his books Creator and the Cosmos, Origins of Life (with Fazale Rana) and Why the Universe Is the Way It Is. In each of these books, Ross addresses how the initial conditions of the universe, the fine tuning of the solar system, and the origin of life are quite consistent with intentional purpose. In Improbable Planet, Ross brings these arguments together to show the whole picture. This is his best work yet.

Using the analogy of a huge construction project, Ross catalogs the steps that must be followed, from producing the materials, to preparing the ground, to laying the foundation, etc, to argue that the universe bears the hallmarks of design for advanced, high-tech civilization.

 

Synopsis

The thesis of the book is that the universe as a whole, and earth in particular, was created for the purpose of redemption: a home for the human race which God would use to defeat evil once and for all. The book is laid out in eighteen chapters. Chapter one lays out point of raising this question. Chapter two describes the results of what the next thirteen chapters would describe. In chapter three, Ross describes how the Big Bang, and subsequent star formation and supernovae produced the necessary building materials. Chapter four shows how rare of a neighborhood a rare planet needs. (Location, location, location.) Chapter five describes the early development of the solar system and the earth-moon system, as well as how these particular conditions make earth a suitable home. Chapter six explains how the interaction of solar system bodies brought about bombardments of the earth that was vital for the life that would later occupy it.

Scientists are frequently announcing the discovery of extrasolar planets. Those who think life must exist elsewhere are looking for planets that could have liquid water on them. They recognize that this is a necessary, though not sufficient condition for life. In chapter seven, Ross notes eight “habitable zones” that must overlap for advanced life to be possible, as well as other conditions. Chapter eight discusses the early origin of life and how it lead to the development of land masses. Here begins the series of life forms that would appear in just the right kinds, and amounts that would prepare the planet for future life forms. Chapter nine through twelve examine how these life forms affected and were affected by the climate, and how they compensated for a changing luminosity of the sun. Chapter thirteen catalogs how the geological and biological history of earth bestowed abundant resources which would be needed for a high-tech civilization. Chapter fourteen walks us through the history of mass speciation and extinction events in earth’s history. Chapter fifteen explains how the ice age cycle has prepared the earth to be able to sustain a population of billions. Chapter sixteen brings us back to the big picture, the why question, and offers an explanation from the Christian worldview.

 

Analysis

As I stated above, I think this is Ross’ best work yet. It lays out his best arguments for design in the universe, the galaxy, the solar system, and the planet. His big picture-to-close up approach, using the construction analogy, is a comprehensive summary of why so many who study these things find confidence in their faith. This book also avoids a lot of unnecessary theological speculation. It can be a little technical for the average lay person, but I think it is worth the effort. I cannot recommend this book more enthusiastically. What readers who may be skeptical need to keep in mind, is that this is a “top down” approach to the question of design. If your starting point is that matter is all there is, you will come away unconvinced. I invite you to read this with an open mind.