Questions & Answers

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Questions and Answers seeks to address today’s frequently asked apologetic and theological questions. RZIM staff writers will present resources for further study, and concise responses for specific questions.

RZIM envisions Questions and Answers as a first step in pursuing further study, resources, and responses to many challenging questions concerning the Christian faith.

Does RZIM have a view on the age of the earth?

RZIM does not have an official ministry position on the age of the earth.  The focus of RZIM is apologetics and evangelism, and thus we do not address particular questions about creation, though we are committed to defending theism against naturalism.  Primarily, we seek to address the philosophical assumptions underlying the atheistic scientific theory to reveal their incoherence, and to demonstrate that a world such as ours requires an active and sovereign Creator.

Though there is some diversity of views within RZIM, we are all firmly committed to the integrity of the Bible as God's infallible Word and believe our world has been intelligently designed and created by God, who made humanity in His own image.

Here are some resources which offer varying perspectives for your own study:

In the Beginning, Henri Blocher (InterVarsity Press)

Knowing the Truth about Creation or Decide for Yourself, Norman Geisler (available at www.normgeisler.com)

God, Are You There? William Lane Craig (Craig's website, www.reasonablefaith.org, also has excellent articles on science/arguments for God's existence.

God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? Dr. John Lennox

Seven Days That Divide the World: The Beginning According to Genesis and Science Dr. John Lennox

 

What are some good resources on the Islamic faith?

For particular questions regarding the Islamic faith, we often refer individuals to Answering Islam.  This site has many articles and answers to the most common questions raised by Muslims about Christianity, and by Christians about Islam.  In addition, we often recommend for individuals to contact the Crescent Project for additional information and ministry resources for Christians.

Is religion, "religulous?"

In 2008 Bill Maher released his film, Religulous, yet another addition to the current assault on theistic belief by what is being called the “new atheists.”  Part of Maher’s claim is that religion is the source of great evil in our world, and is the source of making religious believers intellectually suspect, i.e., religulous [read ridiculous].  What are we to make of his claims?

When we look around our world, we often see horrendous evil being done in the name of religion.  The conflict in the Middle East, and the genocide in Rwanda are just two of many examples of “religiously motivated” conflicts.  Given these examples, what can Christians say to the charge that, indeed, religion “poisons everything” and is at the heart of the world’s problems?

First, it must be acknowledged that religion has been used for good and for evil in this world.  People have abused religion, and people have done horrendous evils in the name of Christ.  But, these abuses run contrary to the teaching of Jesus as presented in the Scripture.  One need only look at Jesus’s own words to know that any violence perpetrated in his name directly contradicts his own teaching: “You have heard that it was said, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist one who is evil.  But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:38-39).

Based on Jesus’s own teaching then, the blanket statement, “religion poisons everything” is about as logical as saying “science poisons everything” simply because science has created such ghastly things as napalm, anthrax, and the nuclear bomb.  We wouldn't throw out the "baby with the bathwater" in the case of science, why are we so quick to do so with religion?  The use and the abuse of religion must be distinguished from blanket statements such as these that generalize the function of religion to being the source of all evil.

Second, we must take a long, hard look at the record of so-called “atheistic” regimes, or anti-religious regimes.  For example, we don’t have to look beyond the last century, to see the results of regimes like Stalin in the Soviet Union, Chairman Mao in China, and Pol Pot in Cambodia.  Regimes without any ties to religion have perpetrated horrific atrocities.   Millions of people lost their lives during the reign of these three regimes alone.  But, perhaps these regimes show what Dostoevsky wrote years ago:  “But what will become of man then?, without God and the immortal life? All things are lawful then, and they can do what they like.  Didn’t you know, a clever man can do what he likes?” (The Brothers Karamazov, translation rev. by Ralph E. Matlaw (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1976), p. 558).

Interestingly enough, even atheists have acknowledged the good function of faith in this world.  Jurgen Habermas, a noted philosopher who claims agnosticism with regards to faith,  admits that Christianity is the foundation of Western civilization.  Christianity is the cultural form that has given us our values, our cultural institutions and our universities. (Religion and Rationality: Essays on Reason, God, and Modernity, edited by Eduardo Mendieta, MIT Press, 2002, page. 149).  Matthew Paris, who also claims to be an atheist, wrote a recent article in the Times of London suggesting that belief in God has been good for Africa.  Recently, Alain de Botton wrote the book Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion which advocates for the importance of religious faith for society.  Perhaps religion is not so religulous when even acknowledged atheists allow for its good purpose and role in civilization.

Finally, it is worth asking how individuals like Bill Maher and other atheists can make moral statements about religion without any external referent for what makes something “religulous” after all.  It is inconceivable, within an atheistic framework, to come to the conclusion that religion is evil, or a great threat when there is no external referent noted for what is evil, or what is good.  In the end, all that is left as an option for Bill Maher is his opinion--which may indeed be ridiculous.

 

For additional reading on the moral argument for God, read C.S. Lewis’s classic Mere Christianity. For a recent book arguing for the reasonableness of religious belief, read Tim Keller’s book The Reason for God.

What's the fuss about "zeitgeist?"

Zeitgeist, The Movie is one of the latest installments of internet media out to debunk Christianity.    Zeitgeist has created a furor with over one million viewers tuning in on Google.  The movie claims that Christianity is simply one among many of the "dying god" myths.

In addition, the book Shattering the Christ Myth deals specifically with the “dying god” myths on which Zeitgeist is based.  An online apologetics site, Tektonics, provides additional bibliographic resources for further study, as well.

With regards to the claim that all religious systems essentially believe the same thing or have the same origin, one simply needs to examine world religions to know that is not true.  World religions make very different claims about the nature of reality, why we are here, where we are going, and what is the nature of all the evil in the world.  For a comprehensive look at World Religions, you may want to take a look at any or all of the following resources:

1. Winfried Corduan, Neighboring Faiths (InterVarsity Press).
2. Dean Halverson, Compact Guide to World Religions (Bethany House).
3. Stephen Neill, The Christian Faith and Other Faiths (InterVarsity Press)
4. Harold Netland, Dissonant Voices (Eerdmans)

Finally, if you want to explore more, some have found Nicholas Perrin's book, Lost In Transmission: What We Can and Cannot Know about the Words of Jesus, to be a helpful resource.  Perrin discusses the "Christ myths," and provides an excellent defense of the New Testament as a trustworthy and reliable source for knowing the real Jesus.

An excellent critique of the Zeitgeist movie can be found on Dr. John Stackhouse's blog and at the Centre for Public Christianity

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Zeitgeist: Time to discard the Christian story? from CPX on Vimeo.

Jesus and Horus: Twins Separated at Birth?

There is often a great deal of internet chatter about books or articles that suggest Jesus is the amalgamation of pagan myths.  Perhaps one of the most popular of these internet iterations is that the Jesus story is really stolen from the ancient Egyptian myth of Horus.  Of course, the “Jesus as Horus myth” is based on the presupposition that Jesus never existed as a historical figure.  Unfortunately, for the supporters of this view, scholarship is not on their side, and so any theory of Jesus as myth is a house of cards.  Many secular or non-Christian historians give evidence for the historical Jesus.  (Josephus and Pliny the Elder, but also modern church historians like John P. Meier – see his book, A Marginal Jew).  Perhaps, most obviously, if Jesus was simply a reiteration of the Horus myth, how does one explain the rapid rise and spread of Christianity, even in the face of intense persecution?  And, incidentally, how many Horus worshipers exist today?

Christians, (in addition to the gospel writers and the letters of Paul) as early as A.D. 96 were defending the claims of Jesus and of the movement that had sprung up after his death.  To understand the significance of this, think of how much historical information we have today about the Civil War, for example,  or even further back, on the Revolutionary War, now almost three hundred years later.  There is a wealth of accurate, historical information on these events produced by individuals living hundreds of years later based on verbal accounts recorded in letters and writings from that time period, just as the early Christians used the stories from eyewitnesses about Jesus to write the gospels, and the earliest letters and writings in the New Testament.  As a result of this research, we have a fairly strong confidence that the Civil War and the Revolutionary War actually happened.  Why is it then, that when we have clear evidence of Jesus’ existence by ancient, non-Christian sources and by Christian sources dated within or very soon after the first century (including the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas that scholars date anywhere from as early as 60 A.D. to around 140-170 A.D.) do we continue to have individuals question whether or not Jesus existed?  The evidence of scholarship has long disputed those who continue to make this claim.  To suggest that Jesus never existed is the much easier route than answering the more difficult question of “Who Was Jesus?”

Some have found an article that deals with the alleged parallels between Horus and Jesus, to be very helpful.  This article also lists additional sources for more study.  But, what about this larger question of ancient myths as they relate to Jesus?  We do not have reason to believe that deaths and resurrections in ancient legends were later addendums to minimize the importance of Christ’s death and resurrection.  The fact that this is a common feature of pagan mythology does not necessarily suggest that Jesus is merely a myth.  On the contrary, many great thinkers like C.S. Lewis view these sorts of motifs in other religions as echoes of the true God-man to come.  This does not mean that they are wholly true.  Yet, out of the milieu of these myths we have the true, historical account of Jesus of Nazareth.  He, in a sense, fulfilled the foreshadowing of all these myths by revealing the only true God through his life, death and his resurrection.

Ancient myths and legends that bear some resemblance to biblical history add to the credibility of the biblical witness, and do not diminish it.   For example, many cultures have some sort of flood narrative.  Does this mean that the story of Noah's flood, as recorded in the book of Genesis, is just another myth?  No, it does not.  Rather, ancient cultures all had within their "cultural memory" a recollection of a massive flood.  Details of this flood were passed down through oral history, and later written down for posterity.   Oral tradition was the primary means by which stories were transmitted in the ancient world, a practice continued by the Jews well into the first century, when Jesus would have lived.  Oral tradition, based on memory, was a highly reliable (since memorization was the main means of learning and transmitting information in the ancient world) means of preserving historic events.  The abundance of flood narratives found in various cultures is an illustration of the credibility and reliability of the flood story.

The critical distinction to keep in mind is this: one must be careful from concluding that parallels infer influence with regards to similarities in various myths or religious systems.  As Nicholas Perrin notes in his book Lost in Transmission, “When reading the New Testament, we find images like light, darkness, life, death, rebirth; we also find concepts like vicarious redemption and personal identification with the divine.  But it would be foolish to suppose that these images and ideas are uniquely Christian, for anyone who has done even a little reading in the primary sources of world religions will see that there is nothing peculiarly Christian at all about such terms and images, even if there was a distinctive Christian use of them.  And so we realize soon enough that when Christian images are anticipated in non-Christian religious literature or art, it does not follow that the former is dependent on the latter.  If Christianity is true then we would expect Christianity to resonate with the deepest longings of humanity, using some of the very same imagery that humanity has latched on to in order to express those longings.  Likewise, if the God of Christianity was interested in conveying himself in meaningful terms, it should come as little surprise that these terms include archetypal patterns and universal images.” (p. 24-25).

Clearly, Jesus and Horus are not twins separated at birth, or two re-tellings of the same story.    While some myths might contain parallels with the Bible, and with the historical Jesus, this does not infer influence or dependence.  Rather, the God who created the world speaks the language of our deepest needs and desires - these needs and desires are found in every culture and language, but find their ultimate fulfillment in the historical person of Jesus.

For additional resources, check out the following video on Doubting Jesus and the New Testament. 

Does RZIM have a position on Calvinism or Arminianism?

Calvinism (sometimes called the Reformed tradition, the Reformed faith, or Reformed theology) is a theological system and an approach to the Christian life that emphasizes the rule of God over all things. It was developed by several theologians, but it bears the name of the French reformer John Calvin because of his prominent influence on it and because of his role in the confessional and ecclesiastical debates throughout the 16th century. Today, this term also refers to the doctrines and practices of the Reformed churches of which Calvin was an early leader. Less commonly, it can refer to the individual teaching of Calvin himself. The system is best known for its doctrines of predestination and total depravity.

Arminianism is a school of soteriological thought within Protestant Christianity based on the theological ideas of the Dutch Reformed theologian Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609) and his historic followers, the Remonstrants. The doctrines' acceptance stretches through much of mainstream Christianity, including evangelical Protestantism.

Arminianism holds to the following tenets:

  • Humans are naturally unable to make any effort towards salvation.

 

  • Salvation is possible only by God's grace, which cannot be merited.

 

  • No works of human effort can cause or contribute to salvation.

 

  • God's election is conditional on faith in the sacrifice and Lordship of Jesus Christ.

 

  • Christ's atonement was made on behalf of all people.

 

  • God allows his grace to be resisted by those who freely reject Christ.
  • Salvation can be lost, as continued salvation is conditional upon continued faith.

Arminianism is most accurately used to define those who affirm the original beliefs of Jacobus Arminius himself, but the term can also be understood as an umbrella for a larger grouping of ideas including those of Hugo Grotius, John and Charles Wesley, and others. There are two primary perspectives on how the system is applied in detail: Classical Arminianism, which sees Arminius as its figurehead, and Wesleyan Arminianism, which sees John Wesley as its figurehead. Wesleyan Arminianism is sometimes synonymous with Methodism.

RZIM does not have an official ministry position on the doctrines of Calvinism or Arminianism, and we have staff members holding to a variety of views in both of these doctrinal traditions. Our ministry is not officially affiliated with any particular denomination, and our staff represents a variety of different denominations. The mission and vision of RZIM is evangelism undergirded by apologetics, and we seek to stay true to that mission and calling. Dr. Zacharias is ordained in the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church. For more information on this denomination, please see their website.

For further study on Calvinism or Arminianism, here are some resources that many have found helpful in exploring these teachings:

Alister McGrath has put together a wonderful collection of historical writings on various issues including predestination and free will. It is called The Christian Theology Reader (Blackwell, 1995). This book gives a sampling from the great works of theology on various topics. From this, one reads the primary sources including John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, Martin Luther’s Bondage of the Will and John Wesley’s writings, for the “free will” perspective. An excellent edition is John Wesley's Sermons: An Anthology (Abingdon Press, 1991) compiled by Albert Cook Outler and Richard P. Heitzenrater. Responsible Grace by Randy Maddox is also an excellent treatment of Wesley's theology.

For a more contemporary reading, InterVarsity Press has published a book (1985) entitled Predestination and Free Will: Four Views of Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom. Norman Geisler and Clark Pinnock are contributors in this volume. Finally, D.A. Carson has written a book entitled How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil (Baker Academic, 1991) that deals with the issue of sovereignty and suffering.

Ravi also recommends J.I. Packer's book Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (InterVarsity Press, 1991), and has written a brief article describing his own position regarding human freedom and the sovereignty of God.

Does RZIM have an official view on the end times, or on eschatology?

Dr. Zacharias has not spoken on matters relating to the end times, nor does RZIM endorse any official view on matters of eschatology.  If you would like to get a better idea of what the different views on the end times are (and how proponents defend each view) we recommend two book called, Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond and Three Views on the Rapture.  Both books are published by Zondervan.  We found these books helpful with regards to understanding the various perspectives on eschatology.

What are some resources that can help me understand the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism?

RZIM does not have an official ministry position on the doctrines of the Catholic tradition; RZIM focuses its ministry on evangelism and apologetics and strives to stay true to that vision. Some of Ravi Zacharias's favorite authors are Catholic (namely G.K. Chesterton and Malcolm Muggeridge), yet he recognizes that there are significant doctrinal differences between Protestants and Catholics.

He recommends a book called Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences by Norman Geisler (Baker, 1995).

 

What is "apologetics" anyway?

According to the American Heritage Dictionary, "apologetics" is the "formal argumentation in defense of something, such as a position or system."  A Christian "apologetic" is not an apology as we usually use the term, that is, to say you are sorry for something.  An apologetics ministry does just the opposite.  We use the word "apology" in the sense that we give a defense of the Christian faith.  We answer people's questions about the truth of the Gospel.  To the questions of the skeptic and the believer we offer an apologetic - we give an answer - to the counterclaims of secularism and other worldviews.  We try to demonstrate that the claims of Jesus are true and make sense intellectually, and offer the best picture of our world and of reality.

Following Peter's admonition in his letter, "but in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to make a defense (Gk. apologia) to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence." 1 Peter 3:15

An Unexpected Apologetic for the Resurrection

Generally speaking, at Easter-time each year, a series of articles will appear that question the validity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The claims are made that we have very little historical evidence for the resurrection – after all, there have not been other “reported and documented” resurrection occurrences since Jesus; there is very little historical literature supporting what the evangelists claim to be true, and the four evangelists themselves disagree on their own testimony to the event itself.  What are we to say to these claims?

 

It is true that a careful reading of the four evangelists’ remembrances of the resurrection indeed reveal many different emphases and details.  Matthew, for example, tells us that a great earthquake had occurred as “an angel of the Lord descended and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it” (Matthew 28:2).  Mark, on the other hand, tells us that a “young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe” was inside the tomb to announce Jesus’s resurrection (Mark 14:5).  Luke tells us that two men “suddenly stood near them [the women] in dazzling apparel” (Luke 24:4) and John, the beloved disciple, reports his own discovery of the linen wrappings abandoned in the empty tomb (John 20:5).  Nevertheless, while there are differences in detail, as we would expect in eyewitness testimony, all four evangelists report a resurrection – of that there is no dispute.

There is another feature that is the same in all four accounts – the resurrection announcement is made first to the women who followed Jesus (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1; Luke 23:55-24:5; John 20:1).  Many reasons have been offered as to why women serve as the immediate witnesses to the resurrection; the women stayed with him through the crucifixion, so he appeared first to those who stuck with him to the end; women traditionally carried out the burial rituals in first century Judaism, so they are witnesses by default; others suggest that the first women witnesses represent Jesus’s elevation of the status for women of the first century, and for women in general.

 

While all of these are plausible reasons, there is another strategic, indeed, apologetic reason why the women were the first witnesses.  In fact, one might argue that this is the primary apologetic for the reality of the resurrection of Jesus.  Women in the first century were not considered credible witnesses.  Indeed, no man in his right mind would give credence to a woman’s testimony in the first century.  Their testimony would not be admissible in court, and in general they were not consulted to give witness or testimony in any matter.  Why then did the gospel writers report them as witnesses to the central claim of the gospel?  If women were not credible witnesses, why tell a story in which the women were the first witnesses to the resurrection?   Wouldn’t it have made more sense to offer some credible, male testimonial?

 

Anglican priest and quantum physicist John Polkinghorne answers this question with a resounding “no” when he writes,

“Perhaps the strongest reason of taking the stories of the empty tomb absolutely seriously lies in the fact that it is women who play the leading role.  It would have been very unlikely for anyone in the ancient world who was concocting a story to assign the principal part to women since, in those times, they were not considered capable of being reliable witnesses in a court of law.  It is surely much more probable that they appear in the gospel accounts precisely because they actually fulfilled the role that the stories assign to them, and in so doing, they make a startling discovery.”[1]

 

In this sense, the women offer the strongest apologetic for the witness of the gospel writers.  It is the very fact that they were not considered reliable witnesses that makes credible the accounting of the evangelists, for who would make up a story like this with women as the central characters in its dramatic conclusion?

 

This example gives witness to God’s unexpected apologetic.  God continually uses those whom we least expect in ways that are profoundly remarkable.  Of course, this is God’s apologetic throughout redemption history – Deborah, a woman, to be judge over Israel; Gideon, the least and the youngest in his tribe and family to defeat the Midianites; David, the youngest of his family and a simple shepherd to be king; Jael, a non-Israelite woman to defeat the Canaanite king Sisera; Josiah, king of Israel at only eight years old, to reform the nation; Amos, a simple sheepherder, to be a prophet among the people of God; tax-collectors, fishermen, and women, Mary, the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany, Martha, and Salome – God chooses those we might be tempted to overlook or ignore, those who were the last and the least in their society to bear witness to the great work of God.

 

All of these witnesses are unexpected in their day and time for a variety of reasons; but, they serve to remind us of an unexpected apologetic; God uses and chooses those we least expect, and would not anticipate, to give witness to God’s work in this world, and in our lives.  And what else would we expect of the God who raised Jesus from the dead?  The unexpected...

 

For additional resources on the evidences for the resurrection, see...

The Centre for Public Christianity 
Premier Radio
RZIM - A Slice of Infinity

Zeitgeist Addendum: Does it really add anything?

Zeitgeist: Addendum is the sequel to the internet film sensation, zeitgeist.  Both films created controversy and call into question some of our most basic assumptions about religion and government.  Appealing to those who have a penchant for conspiracy, Zeitgeist: Addendum focuses its critique primarily on the U.S. banking system and the Federal Reserve/Central Bank.  The film's main assertion is that we are slaves to these corrupt organizations and the sooner we realize our own slavery the better.  The film proposes an alternative, and utopist vision for the world called a "resource based" system where developments in technology and the creation of machines eliminate the need for human labor or money, and will provide an endless supply of abundance from the earth's resources, for all people.

The film fails to answer many significant questions raised by its proposed solutions.   If this technology is available, as the film asserts, why isn't it being used now?   Is money necessary to fund the development of this new technology?  If not, how will it be developed and who will fund its development?   Moreover, who will oversee the distribution of the world's endless supply of resources?  And if, as the film asserts, all of this is available right now - the elimination of our dependence on money, freedom from repetitive, boring work, and the endless supply of resources - why wouldn't people be jumping head-long into this new system, especially in light of the recent economic collapse and continuing economic woes?   Indeed, if a select group of international bankers control everything, and want to maintain control, why would they allow their own banks to fail and to fall into bankruptcy?   Why wouldn't now be the perfect time to implement this resource-based utopia given that our financial system is in serious trouble and people are suffering?  The film simply never addresses these questions.

Perhaps the most disturbing notion proposed by the makers of zeitgeist: addendum is that human nature is not definable, only human behavior.  Human behavior can be shaped and molded in any way because there is no such thing as human nature.   Yet, it is a group of humans who make up the technocracy - rule by technological specialists - and their machines, that will oversee our future behavior modification to be directed towards sharing and using resources wisely.   But, this vision fails to take into account the long history of human behavior for thousands of years.   Human nature is revealed by our behavior.  How have humans used resources?  How have they handled power?  How good a record do we have of sharing - anything?  Again, what does it indicate about human nature if the technology is available right now for us to be free of work, money, and scarcity -as the film suggests - that we haven't already made this vision a reality?   If human behavior is all that needs to be changed, why haven't we figured out how to change it?

Without answering any of these questions, the filmmakers suggest two principles should guide this future into being: emergent and symbiotic principles.  The first suggests that everything is always changing - change is inevitable, and the second suggests that all systems are fragments, but nature is unified as a whole.   Of course, if everything is always changing, even their vision of a resource-based economy would by their own definition change and give way to something else...what that something else would be is never indicated.  This possibility is not discussed.  Instead, the narrator boldly suggests that the human ability to create continually is the recognition of our divine status.  Our recognition that we are all one and that we all share the same unified, divine nature enables us to want to share with everyone else.   Doesn't this sound like a statement about human nature?  Yet, the film asserts that humans do not have a defined nature?  The film defines human nature as emergent, symbiotic and divine, whille at the same time asserting that only human behavior exists. Despite this clear contradiction, the filmmakers assert that we are all one and that we are all divine, reiterating the central ideas of much of new age thinking.

Despite denying a definable, human nature, the film nevertheless presents an optimistic vision of human nature in it's proposal that human intelligence is the answer to our problems.  The film speaks of the scientists involved in the Manhattan Project and asks what would have happened if these scientists had put their super-intelligence together and created something good, rather than creating the atomic bomb?  They miss the irony of their own example.    If human intelligence is the answer, why didn't these scientists devise the resource-based economy in the 1930's and 1940's, when clearly they were smart enough to develop atomic and nuclear technology?  Again, the film misses the obvious in its attempts to uncover a better future.

Sadly, while correctly identifying many abuses in our financial systems, the makers of the zeitgeist films speak out of both sides of their mouths with regards to solutions.  While praising the unifying notion of all human life, they suggest division and protest as ways to "fight the system".  Yet, if we are truly all one, as they suggest, how would a boycott of banks, gas stations, the military, and politics help to unite us?  Don't these individuals who work at these institutions share the same divine nature?  While arguing that there is no such thing as human nature, only human behavior, the film ironically demonstrates the existence of human nature, and that human nature has not changed over millennia.  Human intelligence is just as prone to create havoc as it is to create beauty and meaning.   Indeed, the film never explains how the very same humans who cannot use their intelligence to do good will somehow manage the development of technological machines for the benefit of all.  If even our best and brightest can't find a way to do good with their intelligence, why do the authors believe it will be any different in their resource-based economy?

In addition, the film naively assumes that the earth's natural resources and the power of the sun have infinite and limitless potential.  This goes against the most basic science - the sun, for example, just like every other star in the universe, will eventually burn itself out.  Without the sun, the earth will experience cataclysmic events, not endless resources for humans to use.  While warning about a "one world government" in the first film, the authors seem to have reversed course and argue for a "one world" system of resource allocation and the "unity of all things" through the principle of symbiosis.  How can they fear a one-world government in the first film, and advocate for a similar system in the second film, albeit run in their way, by their select group of technocrats?

Interestingly enough, the very principle of fear and control that the makers of the zeitgeist films argue is at work in our current systems of religion, economics and politics, underlies all of their assertions.  You really don't have the true information, the film suggests.  You really are a slave.  You really aren't smart enough to figure all of this out on your own - they've got to be the ones to tell you.  In the end, Zeitgeist: addendum doesn't add anything to the conversation about our global concerns.   Instead it simply adds more fear.  The film appeals to those who live by fear, and who want to use fear to influence others.  This is not the vision of the Christian God who is Alpha and Omega, who was at the beginning, and who will guide us till the end.

In contrast to what the film asserts, the whole discipline of science, and the technology that flows from science, arose from the Christian worldview.  A simple look at a history of science textbook will demonstrate this point.  Science and faith walked hand in hand for many generations, and those who use science to discover the intricacies of creation can hold faith and science together.  In contrast to what the film asserts, a Christian worldview takes human nature very seriously arguing that while we are created in the very image of God, we often choose independence from our God.  As such, we go our own way and fall into all kinds of sin and evil.  Our distorted nature leads to distorted behavior.  But, God does not leave us to that fate, and provides a living, breathing picture of the way our lives ought to look in the person of Jesus Christ.   He presents a life of self-giving love - a life of abundance: "I have come that you might have life, and have it to the full."   He presents a life based in intelligent faith, and not fear: "You shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free."  While we can agree, more or less, with some of the film's diagnoses of our current financial malaise, a debt-based society, and global resource scarcity, as Christians we must disagree with the film's solutions, which do not provide real answers to the real questions of human nature, purpose, and our ultimate destiny.  Abiding in the teaching of Jesus would add much more to our understanding than watching either of the zeitgeist films.

If you are interested in reading more, there is an excellent critique of the zeitgeist film at Dr. John Stackhouse's blog, as well as this response from the Center for Public Christianity.

http://www.publicchristianity.com/Videos/zeitgeist.html

Why isn’t God more obvious?

Why isn’t God more obvious?  This question is often asked in many ways and in many contexts.  When prayers go unanswered, why is God silent?  When suffering or tragedy strikes, why would God allow this to happen?  When struggling over the immense task of evangelism and the countless millions who do not know about God revealed in Jesus Christ, why wouldn’t God want more people to know God’s good news?  When all the “evidence” seems to counter the Biblical narrative, why doesn’t God just give us a sign?  When God was revealed through many wondrous signs and miracles throughout the Bible, why doesn’t God act that way today?  All of these examples get at the same issue – the seeming “hiddenness” of God.

Atheist Bertrand Russell was once asked what he would say if after death he met God, to which Russell replied: “God, you gave us insufficient evidence.” [1]    While many who have found God quite evident would balk at Russell’s impudence, a similar struggle ensued between the psalmist and his hidden God.  “Why do you stand afar off, O Lord?  Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Psalms 10:1)  Indeed, the psalmist accuses God of being “asleep” in these plaintive cries: “Arouse, yourself, why do you sleep, O Lord?  Awake, and do not reject us forever.  Why do you hide your face, and forget our affliction and our oppression?” (Psalm 44:23-24)

Indeed, the belief in a God who can be easily found, and who has acted in time and space makes the hiddenness of God all the more poignant and perplexing.  Theologians have offered many explanations for God’s hiddenness; to grow our faith, our sins and disobedience hides us from God, or at least keeps us from seeing God properly, or because God loves us and knows how much and how often we need to “find” God.  All of these explanations point us to the truth. Oftentimes, we are just as likely to hide ourselves from God because of our guilt and shame, just as our first parents’ did in the Garden when God sought after them.

But, once our hearts’ are examined and our lives are “blameless” with regards to any willful hiding from God, we cry out, just like Job did and wonder why God stays hidden away in unanswered prayers and difficult circumstances.  “Why do you hide your face, and consider me the enemy?” (Job 13:24)

The hiddenness of God is problematic for theists and atheists alike.  Christians often take for granted that we have the Scriptures which give us a record of God’s revelation.  We have the benefit of a book full of God’s speech.  God speaks in the wonder and mystery of creation; God speaks through the history of the nation of Israel; God speaks through the very Word of God incarnate, Jesus Christ.  His life reveals the exact nature of God, and places God’s glory on full display.

But, still we may wonder if we must always and only look to the past to hear God’s voice, while we wonder why God isn’t more “talkative” today?  Has God not given us a witness for God’s presence and activity in the world today?

God is often found in one of the last places we think of – the Church.  For at its best, the church re-tells the story of God speaking across the ages and definitively in Jesus Christ through the preaching of the gospel.  But the church can also create community where God may be encountered in the faces of others, as a result of the empowering Holy Spirit.  Such a community is to be the symbol of God’s presence among us, and with us as “God found,” not “God-hidden.”  It is to be the arms of God around us, when we are hurting, or the voice of God speaking when we feel we haven’t heard from God in years.   Such a community is to be God’s voice, God’s hands and feet as it goes out into the broken places of the world to bring healing, help and comfort.  Through worship, and liturgy, prayer and communion, service and sacrifice the church is to reveal the God who spoke, and is still speaking.

God is not often revealed in the roar of the hurricane, or the loud-clap of thunder, but in a “still, small voice” – a voice that is barely audible except to the most patient and still.  Sometimes God is found in the ordinary and the everyday miracles of creation, beauty, and relationship.  Indeed, in that most ordinary of places, the Church, broken and human as it is, seeks through the power of the Spirit to accomplish “greater things than these” we see God, and hear God, and find God beautifully obvious.

For those who long to see God, long to find God in the darkest hour, we may not find God in the dramatic, or the victorious, the miraculous or the stupendous.  Instead, we may yet hope to find him in the pew, at the table of the Lord’s Supper, or in a simple hymn sung by fellow seekers longing to find God too.

If you want to do further study on this issue, many have found our Critical Concerns booklet Why Isn’t God More Obvious ? (Norcross, GA: RZIM, 2000) a very helpful study on this topic.

[1] Cited in Dr. Paul K. Moser’s booklet Why Isn’t God More Obvious: Finding the God who Hides and Seeks (Norcross, GA: RZIM, 2000)1.

Six Questions to Ask an Atheist

Many times, as Christian theists, we find ourselves on the defensive against the critiques and questions of atheists.  Sometimes, in the midst of arguments and proofs, we miss the importance of conversation.  These questions, then, are meant to be a part of a conversation.  They are not, in and of themselves, arguments or "proofs" for God.  They are commonly asked existential or experiential questions that both atheists and theists alike can ponder.

1.    If there is no God, “the big questions” remain unanswered, so how do we answer the following questions: Why is there something rather than nothing?  This question was asked by Aristotle and Leibniz alike – albeit with differing answers.  But it is an historic concern.  Why is there conscious, intelligent life on this planet, and is there any meaning to this life?  If there is meaning, what kind of meaning and how is it found?  Does human history lead anywhere, or is it all in vain since death is merely the end?  How do you come to understand good and evil, right and wrong without a transcendent signifier?  If these concepts are merely social constructions, or human opinions, whose opinion does one trust in determining what is good or bad, right or wrong?  If you are content within atheism, what circumstances would serve to make you open to other answers?
2.    If we reject the existence of God, we are left with a crisis of meaning, so why don’t we see more atheists like Jean Paul Sartre, or Friedrich Nietzsche, or Michel Foucault?  These three philosophers, who also embraced atheism, recognized that in the absence of God, there was no transcendent meaning beyond one’s own self-interests, pleasures, or tastes.  The crisis of atheistic meaninglessness is depicted in Sartre’s book Nausea.  Without God, there is a crisis of meaning, and these three thinkers, among others, show us a world of just stuff, thrown out into space and time, going nowhere, meaning nothing.
3.    When people have embraced atheism, the historical results can be horrific, as in the regimes of Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot who saw religion as the problem and worked to eradicate it?  In other words, what set of actions are consistent with particular belief commitments?  It could be argued, that these behaviors – of the regimes in question - are more consistent with the implications of atheism.  Though, I'm thankful that many of the atheists I know do not live the implications of these beliefs out for themselves like others did!  It could be argued that the socio-political ideologies could very well be the outworking of a particular set of beliefs – beliefs that posited the ideal state as an atheistic one.
4.    If there is no God, the problems of evil and suffering are in no way solved, so where is the hope of redemption, or meaning for those who suffer?  Suffering is just as tragic, if not more so, without God because there is no hope of ultimate justice, or of the suffering being rendered meaningful or transcendent, redemptive or redeemable.  It might be true that there is no God to blame now, but neither is there a God to reach out to for strength, transcendent meaning, or comfort.  Why would we seek the alleviation of suffering without objective morality grounded in a God of justice?
5.    If there is no God, we lose the very standard by which we critique religions and religious people, so whose opinion matters most?  Whose voice will be heard?  Whose tastes or preferences will be honored?  In the long run, human tastes and opinions have no more weight than we give them, and who are we to give them meaning anyway?  Who is to say that lying, or cheating or adultery or child molestation are wrong –really wrong?  Where do those standards come from?  Sure, our societies might make these things “illegal” and impose penalties or consequences for things that are not socially acceptable, but human cultures have at various times legally or socially disapproved of everything from believing in God to believing the world revolves around the sun; from slavery, to interracial marriage, from polygamy to monogamy.  Human taste, opinion law and culture are hardly dependable arbiters of Truth.
6.    If there is no God, we don’t make sense, so how do we explain human longings and desire for the transcendent?  How do we even explain human questions for meaning and purpose, or inner thoughts like, why do I feel unfulfilled or empty?  Why do we hunger for the spiritual, and how do we explain these longings if nothing can exist beyond the material world?

For further reading, see Ravi Zacharias’s book The Real Face of Atheism, and C.S. Lewis’s book Mere Christianity.  The RZIM website has many excellent resources on atheism, as does the Centre for Public Christianity, www.publicchristianity.org.