I come across these “objections” repeatedly online, in conversation, in debates, talk shows, and the like.  These are such silly objections against the existence of God that it is ludicrous that an answer has to be brought up. But, since they keep appearing and reappearing, they must be dealt with.

1. “Believing in God is like believing in a flying spaghetti monster”

This is a real objection one can find online, and it is as silly as it sounds.  There is even a church dedicated to this objection (more of a parody than to be taken seriously) which is also called Pastafarianism.  It is a common meme found online as is seen from the “inspirational” poster here.  It has even been manufactured for car decals.  The Flying Spaghetti monster argument is meant to parody belief in God by showing that since there is no evidence for a Flying Spaghetti monster, you shouldn’t believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster.  Likewise, since there is no evidence for a God, you shouldn’t believe in God.

Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason responds to this silly objecton:

Dr. William Lane Craig responds to this objection in his weekly Q&A:

“God and the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Q#33” Reasonable Faith. Dr. Craig concludes by:

The real lesson to be learned from the case of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is that it shows how completely out of touch our popular culture is with the great tradition of natural theology. One might as well be speaking a foreign language. That people could think that belief in God is anything like the groundless belief in a fantasy monster shows how utterly ignorant they are of the works of Anselm, Aquinas, Leibniz, Paley, Sorley, and a host of others, past and present. No doubt part of the fault lies with equally ignorant Christians who have no answer when called upon to give a reason for the hope within and who therefore give the impression of arbitrary and groundless belief. But it must also be attributed to poor education, intellectual laziness, and a lack of curiosity. Given the revival of natural theology in our day over the last half century, we have no excuse for such lame caricatures of theistic belief as belief in the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

The origins of the Flying Spaghetti Monster actually goes back to a response to Intelligent Design (ID) in 2005.  This following video provides the context as well as the Dr. Craig’s response to it as a critique to ID:

“5 Reasons The Flying Spaghetti Monster Parody Doesn’t Make Sense” by Richard Bushey | Therefore, God Exists, December 24, 2015 – A taste of this article:

In an attempt to mock and ridicule religion (as is the great commission of the atheist as prescribed by Richard Dawkins at last years’ Reason Rally), atheists will compare belief in God to something ridiculous, that anybody would regard as false, like Santa Claus, or the Tooth Fairy, or even what they call the Flying Spaghetti Monster. The Flying Spaghetti Monster came as a response to the advocacy of Intelligent Design being taught in schools. The very concept is as ridiculous as teaching students about the Flying Spaghetti Monster. However I think there are at least 5 reasons the Flying Spaghetti Monster parody doesn’t make sense.

“Conclusion: Why the ‘Flying Spaghetti Monster’ Doesn’t Fly”

  1. Sure, there is no evidence for a flying spaghetti monster, but there are plenty of arguments for the existence of God.  So this argument from a spaghetti monster does not counter any argument for God’s existence, because the spaghetti monster example is assuming that there are no arguments for God. Now, that doesn’t mean any of the arguments for God’s existence are good arguments, but that is what needs to be investigated.  Spaghetti monsters don’t provide evidence against God.
  2. The spaghetti monster is physical, temporal, and material and the concept of God is non-physical, eternal, and immaterial.  Since the spaghetti monster is a material object extended in space and time and can’t be the cause of space, time, matter, and energy.
2.We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.

Richard Gervais, the comedian (who is “obviously” an authority in philosophy and religion [please read that with sarcasm]) recently proposed the “one god further” objection with Stephen Colbert (relevant information at 2:20):

This quote apparently originated with Stephen F. Roberts in 1995.  Common Sense Atheism also has utilized this argument:

What I mean is that if you apply the same reasoning to your god as you do to every other god (your “common” sense) then you’ll see that your god doesn’t exist, either.

In short, this argument states that the only difference between a Christian and an atheist is that the atheist is just like the Christian theist, but they just believe in one less god than the Christian.  So Christians are atheists when it comes to the belief in Baal to Zeus, so they are just as atheistic as the full atheists. Bill Vallicella of Maverick Philosopher summaries the argument:

The idea, I take it, is that all gods are on a par, and so, given that everyone is an atheist with respect to some gods, one may as well make a clean sweep and be an atheist with respect to all gods. You don’t believe in Zeus or in a celestial teapot. Then why do you believe in the God of Isaac, Abraham, and Jacob?

one-god-futherRationalWiki even has a list of gods that Christian don’t believe in from Aabit to Zurvan for a total of 1,637 deities that Christians are atheistic towards.  This is suppose lead to the conclusion that the God of Christianity doesn’t exist either.  I am not sure how it does this, but that is the claim.  This is just a non sequitur.  Richard Dawkins has used this argument in The God Delusion:

None of us feels an obligation to disprove any of the millions of far-fetched things that a fertile or facetious imagination might dream up. I have found it an amusing strategy, when asked whether I am an atheist, to point out that the questioner is also an atheist when considering Zeus, Apollo, Amon Ra, Mithras, Baal, Thor, Wotan, the Golden Calf and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I just go one god further.

Here are some responses to this objection:

Ricky Gervais Makes the Usual Atheist Mistakes” by Tom Gilson | Thinking Christian Feb 17, 2017. Tom Gilson answers almost all of Ricky Gervais points in the Colbert clip, but answers the one god objection under the heading of “The Arithmetical Argument.”

Brett Kunkl of Stand to Reason posted this entertaining video answering this silly objection:

Debunking the One God Further Objection ” by Edward Feser | Strange Notions.

Here is a quick video of Dr. Craig’s response to the “we are all atheists” objection:

Why the ‘I Just Believe in One Less God Than You’ Argument Does Not Work” by Michael Patton | Credo House April 13, 2011 – Michael Patton differentiates the important distinction between belief in other gods and the belief in the Christian God.

On the Statement That ‘We Are All Atheists’ ” by J. W. Wartick | Always Have a Reason April  4, 2011. – Wartick examines three problems with the statement “we are all atheists to other religions, we [atheists] just take it one step further.”  The problems are:

1) The statement is false

2) The statement is irrational

3) The statement–as with many false or irrational statements–proves too much (or too little).

“Conclusion: Why the ‘One God Further’ Objection Doesn’t Add Up”

  1. If one takes the argument to mean we are all atheists to multiple gods, but the skeptic is just an atheist of one more god, then the argument just confuses what is means to be an atheist.  The Christian theist (or Muslim or Jew) are NOT atheists.  Atheism is the believe that God doesn’t exist.  Theists (whether Christian, Islamic, or Jewish) or not atheists at all.
  2. This claim that it is irrational to believe in Odin, Thor, Zeus, Baal, etc. is irrational, thus belief in theism is irrational fails to grapple with the arguments for theism.  It is just an attempt to avoid the work of looking at arguments for (or against) God.

Satirical video by What do you Meme vlogger Jon against this objection:

As this last point points out, both objections are just attempts to avoid looking at arguments for God’s existence, which there are plenty (kalam cosmological argument, moral argument, teleological argument, ontological argument, contingency argument, and dozens of others).  Both of these objections against theism have run their course and (unfortunately) will pop back up here and there because of the internet, but please, lets put these to rest.

California Mission Wooden CrosChristian missionaries have been deemed racists, imperialistic, and intolerant, but the truth of the efforts of missionaries has some very interesting seemingly unintended consequences: liberal democracies to name just but one.

While many might view the modern Christian missions movement as an intolerable effort against multiculturalism leading to the exploitation of people groups by proselytizing efforts social indicators has deemed the efforts positive in multiple accounts.

The Myth: Missionaries are culturally insensitive proselytizers.  Thomas S. Abler in The American Indian Quarterly begins by asserting that, “It is convention that anthropologists view Christian missionaries as disruptive agents of cultural change.” (source)  He goes on to report “It is the missionary’s goal to replace indigenous religion with Christianity and to alter other aspects of behavior to the norms of Western society. Anthropologists expect individuals who assume such a role to be personally ethnocentric, possibly to an extreme degree.”

While there is instances of this occurring, it is the exception rather than the rule.  For example, Napoleon Chagnon quotes a Catholic priest as saying the Yanomamo of the Amazon rainforest region as saying, “I believe the Yanomamo are subhuman-they act like animals and lack the essential faculties of being human” in his book Yanomamo: The Fierce People (1983)

But the truth is much more complex and constructive for the indigenous.

The Truth: No doubt, there is the rare antidote of the oppressive missionary, but the truth is the efforts to convert people to Christianity has lead to some remarkable benefits for the recipients, not just for eternity as the missionaries hoped, but for the temporal as well.

Some of the benefits include:

  • increased literacy rates
  • mass education
  • civil rights
  • education for  women and the poor
  • better health
  • lower infant mortality
  • lower corruption
  • mass printing
  • liberal democracies

These positive increases in social indicators has been discovered by the work of Dr. Robert Woodberry.  Woodberry, a sociologist, used statistical analysis to uncover the benefits that Protestant missionaries bring to an indigenous people group.  WithBookshelf

Dr. Robert Woodberry has discovered a direct causation (not correlation) between Protestant missions and the rise of stable liberal democracies.  The Christianity Today article titled “The World Missionaries Made” in the January 2014 issue recounts Woodberry’s work on how the efforts of missionaries are the single largest factor in ensuring the health of nations:

Areas where Protestant missionaries had a significant presence in the past are on average more economically developed today, with comparatively better health, lower infant mortality, lower corruption, greater literacy, higher educational attainment (especially for women), and more robust membership in non-governmental associations.

Woodberry published his work in the academic journal American Political Science Review showing how Protestant missionaries influence the rise and spread of stable democracies around the world and was crucial in initiating the development and spread of religious liberty, mass education, mass printing, newspapers, voluntary organizations, and colonial reforms.  Titled “The Missionary Roots of Liberal Democracy,” Woodberry thesis in the article demonstrates:

historically and statistically that conversionary Protestants (CPs) heavily influenced the rise and spread of stable democracy around the world. It argues that CPs were a crucial catalyst initiating the development and spread of religious liberty, mass education, mass printing, newspapers, voluntary organizations, and colonial reforms, thereby creating the conditions that made stable democracy more likely. . . . The association between Protestant missions and democracy is consistent in different continents and subsamples, and it is robust to more than 50 controls and to instrumental variable analyses.

For a shorter article in World Magazine detailing his discovery AND what happens academically when it doesn’t match up to Politically Correct thought Marvin Olasky:

“Into Exile” World Magazine | Aug 25, 2012


Quick Quotes from the Experts:

“To suggest that the missionary movement had this strong, positive influence on liberal democratization—you couldn’t think of a more unbelievable and offensive story to tell a lot of secular academics.” (Christian Smith, professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame)

“[Woodberry] presents a grand and quite ambitious theory of how ‘conversionary Protestants’ contributed to building democratic societies.  Try as I might to pick holes in it, the theory holds up. [It has] major implications for the global study of Christianity.” (Philip Jenkins, history professor of Baylor University)

“I think it’s the best work out there on religion and economic development.  It’s incredibly sophisticated and well grounded. I haven’t seen anything quite like it.” (Robin Grier, professor of economics and international studies at University of Oklahoma)


This article received awards for the best article in Comparative Politics, Comparative Democratization, Political Economy (runner up) from the American Political Science Association and best article in the Sociology of Religion from the American Sociological Association.
This article won first place in the Evangelical Press Association’s General Article: Long category.
  • Robert Woodberry’s presentation at Berkley Center at Georgetown University in Dec. of 2012.  (5 minutes)
  • A more thorough presentation (40 minutes) at the Center for Independent Studies in Sydney Australia titled “Religion and the Roots of Liberal Democracy” in 2015:


When it comes the issue of creation, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the various views and details involved.

Some of the key positions that one needs to be aware of include: young-earth creationism, old-earth creation, theistic evolution, naturalistic evolution, and intelligent design.  A good book the surveys the different views (young earth, old earth, and theistic evolution) is Three Views of Creation and Evolution ed. by J. P. Moreland and John Mark Reynolds.

Young-Earth Creationism

This view holds that God created the earth, in fact, the entire universe, in six literal twenty four hour days and the universe is only 6,000 to 10,000 years old.



Resources on Young Earth:

Old-Earth Creation

This position agrees with mainstream science that the universe is 13.7 billion years old and that the earth is 4.5 billion years old unlike the young-earth creationists.  Similar to young-earthers is the rejection of macro-evolution.  They are several camps of old-earthers such as gap theorists, day-age theory, and literary framework, to name a few.



Resources on Old Earth:

Theistic Evolution

This view agrees with the old-earth position regarding the age, but also believes that God utilized the process of biological evolution to bring about the diversity of biological life beginning 3.5 billion years ago including the common descent of humanity.



Resources for Theistic Evolution:

Intelligent Design

The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.  This view can be held by young earth, old earth, theistic evolution, but not naturalistic evolution.



Resources for Intelligent Design:

Naturalistic Evolution

This view states that all life on Earth evolved from a single species from an unguided, natural process.  God was not involved in the process.



Resources on Naturalistic Evolution:

Other Helpful Resources:

Dr. William Lane Craig has down a 21 series class (Defenders), both as a podcast and a video, that is available on his website titled “Creation and Evolution.” It is extensive and thorough as it surveys the various options on this issue.

Screen Shot 2015-07-04 at 12.57.54 PMNatasha of Christian Mom Thoughts has provided a very helpful blog on the various views of creation, evolution, theistic evolution, intelligent design, young earth, and old earth as well as naturalistic evolution.  Her flowchart/diagram is very helpful in understanding the issues.  This would be a great place to start when wading into the pool of creation and evolution.

Hope this helps in some research and study in the issue of creation, evolution, and intelligent design.

Have you ever heard someone say, “you have to prove that scientifically.” Or even in news reports that “studies have shown . . . ”  Or maybe you have heard that science is the final or ultimate source of knowledge.  Behind these sentiments may lie a belief called “scientism.”  This mentality has even been put as simply as “If I can’t see it, hear it, or feel it, it doesn’t exist.”

This attitude towards that elevates science to a place of religious devotion is known as “scientism.”

Scientism is the belief that we should believe only what can be proven scientifically. That is, science is the sole source of knowledge and truth.

No doubt, science is a wonderful means of finding out truths about the world and a means of knowledge about the natural world, but science is not the final arbiter of truth. Nevertheless, there are some who claim (or even act as if) science is the only means of knowledge and truth. Here are some examples of people asserting scientism:

  • “Whatever knowledge is attainable, must be attained by scientific methods; and what science cannot discover, mankind cannot know.” – (Bertrand Russell Religion and Science, 243)
  • “Traditionally these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.” – (Stephen Hawking The Grand Design, 13)
  • “Science, as the only begetter of truth.” – (Richard Lewontin, The New York Review of Books 1/9/97)
  • “We trust science as the only way to acquire knowledge. That is why we are so confident about atheism.” -(Alex Rosenberg The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, 20)

There are several problems with scientism:

  1. Scientism is to restrictive – If science was the only source and final arbitrator of knowledge and truth, then massive fields of knowledge and truth would have to abandoned which most of us take to be legitimate truths and knowledge claims.  For example, if science in the only source for truth then we would have to abandon: mathematical truths, historical knowledge, logical truth, moral truth, and aesthetic truths amongst others.  Any theory of knowledge (such as scientism) that excludes these obvious avenues of truth needs to be abandoned itself, before you abandon these truths.
  2. Scientism is self-refuting – If the only source of knowledge and truth is science, then the claim that “the only source of knowledge and truth is science” is not true or knowable.  Why? Because the claim is not true because of science of known through science, and science it is not known by science, you shouldn’t believe that only science leads to truth and knowledge.

Science is a great and noble discipline.  We gain much knowledge and truth through it and will continue to gain knowledge and truth through science.  But, let’s not come with the mistaken belief that science is the best or only means of truth and knowledge.  The attitude that only science can lead to knowledge and truth is unwarranted, misleading, and self-contradictory.

J. P. Moreland, in his excellent work Love Your God With All Your Mind shares why we should reject scientism: “What I do reject is the idea that science and science alone can claim to give us knowledge. This assertion – known as scientism – is patently false and, in fact, not even a claim of science, but rather, a philosophical view about science.”

J. P. Moreland, the author of Scientism and Secularism, discusses this issue of scientism in this video:



Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology by J. P. Moreland (Crossway: 2018)

“The Dangers of ‘Scientism’ and an Over-Reliance on Science” by J. Warner Wallace | Cold-Case Christianity, Feb 11, 2015

“Is Scientism Self-Refuting?” by William Lane Craig | Reasonable Faith, Mar 21, 2011

“Blinded by Scientism” by Edward Feser | Public Discourse Mar 9, 2010


Post about other issues concerning science from this blog include:

Science Series: C. S. Lewis on Scientisim, Evolution, and Intelligent Design

Science Series: The Myth that the Church Hindered the Development of Science

Science Series: The Myth that Galileo Goes to Jail

Science Series: The Flat Earth Myth

Science Series: Finely Tuned Cosmos

Science Series: The Dawkins Delusion Continues

Science Series: “Inherit the Wind”

Science Series: Was Belief in God a Science-Stopper? Not for Newton

Science Series: Oxford Professor-Atheism in Decline, Will be Defeated by Faith

Science Series: Creation Confusion – Resources for Research on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design

Science Series: Bill Nye the Pseudo-Science Guy

Science Series: Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God – the Most Popular Article in Wall Street Journal History

Warfare Myth: Science vs. Religion

Two books that have been recently published that are helpful in understanding the transition our culture has been experiencing regarding Social Justice, the overthrow of traditional sex and gender norms, critical race theory, and the like are:

Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity—and Why This Harms Everybody by Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay

Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents by Rod Dreher

Having written fairly extensively about the danger of Critical Race Theory for the church in my post “”Woke’ or ‘Broke’ Theology,” and its popular expression in Social Justice, these two books have recently been published concerning these issues as well. One is more theoretical and academic and addresses the implications for a classically liberal democracy. The other is practical and historically rich with details provided for Christians in how to dissent against the impending soft totalitarianism that is forthcoming.

They are unlikely bedfellows to say the least. James Lindsay is an atheist having written multiple books on the non-existence of God, while Rod Dreher, a senior editor and blogger at The American Conservative, is an Orthodox Christian.

Nevertheless, as the old adage goes: the enemy of my enemy is my friend. This is becoming more the case as Critical Theory is gaining influence in popular culture and politics. For example, the militant atheist Peter Boghossian was interviewed (along with Lindsay) by Michael O’Fallon exposing the dangers of Critical Race Theory and Social Justice not only for the church but for society at large. Lindsay is also a keynote speaker for the conference The Great Awokening: Halting the Infusion of Critical Theories, Postmodernism, and Progressive Politics in the Christian Church alongside pastors and ministers.

A Critical Analysis of Critical Theory by the Grievance Studies Scholars

Cynical Theories looks at the development of postmodern thought and the effects of critical theory in scholarship and activism by Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay. Pluckrose is a self-described “exile from the humanities with research interests in late medieval/early modern religious writing by and about women.  She is editor-in-chief of Areo.” Lindsay, authoring multiple books about atheism and the non-existence of God, has a doctorate in math and background in physics. His essays have appeared in TIME, Scientific American, and The Philosophers’ Magazine.

Live Discussion: Cynical Theories Book Launch

Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay gained wide attention with the ‘grievance studies‘ affair along with Peter Boghossian. They highlighted the pseudo-scholarship in several academic fields by submitting bogus academic papers to academic journals in cultural, queer, race, gender, fat, and sexuality studies that where published regardless of being passed by the peer review process of those journals.

In there book Pluckrose and Lindsay provide a guide in understanding the rise of Critical Theory from the postmodern turn of the 1960s to the present. Theory (with a capital T) refers to the social philosophy that stems from postmodernism. While many believed postmodernism died, they assert that it has “mutated into a handful of Theories – postcolonial, queer, and critical race” which aims to “reconstruct society in the image of an ideology which came to refer to itself as ‘Social Justice.'”

A chapter is dedicated to each mutation of postmodern theory: postcolonial theory, queer theory, critical race theory and intersectionality, feminism and gender studies, and disability and fat studies. They round out the book with a look at how these studies and theories have been applied in a Social Justice context and propose a better way forward with liberalism without identity politics. They define liberalism as a political democracy, limitations on the powers of government, universal human rights, legal equality for all citizens, freedom of expression , and value for viewpoint diversity and debate, respect of evidence and reason, separation of church and state, and freedom of religion.

Learning From the Past to Fight the Future

Rod Dreher’s Live Not by Lies was inspired by individuals who suffered under the totalitarian communist governments during the Cold War. For several years Dreher began to talk to men and women who had once lived under communism and began to see a pattern emerge. Similarities between what happened to those individuals under the Soviet bloc of communism is beginning to happen in America. Namely, “Elites and elite institutions are abandoning old-fashioned liberalism [see Pluckrose and Lindsay’s definition of liberalism above], based in defending the rights of the individual, and replacing it with a progressive creed that regards justice in terms of groups. It encourages people to identify with groups – ethnic, sexual, and otherwise – and to think of Good and Evil as a matter of power dynamics among the groups. A utopian vision drives these progressives, one that compels them to seek to rewrite history [such as the 1619 Project] and reinvent language to reflect their ideals of social justice.”

Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents - The Thinking  Conservative

Dreher warns that this is difficult to realize because we live in America, “the land of liberty, individual rights, and one nation under God.” While what is occuring in the America is not identical to the Society Bloc countries, the threat to liberty is in the attitude of liberating victims from oppression.

Dreher differentiates what is happening here to the old Soviet Bloc with the expression: “soft totalitarianism.”

Hard vs Soft Totalitarianism:

Dreher explains the difference between the two in this interview:

Hard Totalitarianism is when an authoritarian government expands its claim to power to cover every aspect of life – including the inner life of its citizens. Stalinism (a common expression of hard totalitarianism) achieved that through terror and pain. This kind of system is what every American high school student read about in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. I wouldn’t say it could never come here, but I don’t really think it will.

Instead, we are building a kinder, gentler version. What awakened the Soviet-bloc emigres is the way political correctness has jumped over the walls of the universities and is both intensifying and spreading through society’s institutions. The forms it takes, the language that it uses to justify itself, and the way that it tolerates absolutely no dissent – all of this is truly totalitarian.

What makes it soft? A couple of things. First, it is emerging within a democratic system, within the institutions of liberal democracy, without a state monopoly on power. Second, and more importantly, the emerging totalitarian system will not coerce compliance through pain and terror, but more from manipulating our comforts, including status. It will be more like the dystopia in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. That’s more pleasant to live through than Nineteen Eighty-Four, but it’s still totalitarian, and it will still have major long-term effects.

Dreher explains the advance of this soft totalitarianism in identity politics, woke capitalism, the surveillance technology of big tech, cancel culture, critical theory, and social justice.

The latter half of the book is Dreher’s suggestion in surviving a culture in which we live not by lies. Drawing off of the experience and stories of the Christians who survived the hard totalitarianism of the communist countries, he finds avenues in living in the truth in order to survive the soft totalitarianism he sees coming: value nothing but the truth, remembering the past, strength found in the family and religion, and learning to suffer well.

These avenues will be difficult to cultivate in a post-Christian America, but it is what sustained the faithful under the hard totalitarianism of communism. May we understand the times and be faithful under the impending soft totalitarianism that is coming.

Other Resources for Understanding Our Cultural Shift

Confronting Injustice without Compromising Truth by Thaddeus Williams

The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self by Carl Trueman

Why Social Justice Is Not Biblical Justice: An Urgent Appeal to Fellow Christians in a Time of Social Crisis by Scott Allen

Post-Christian: A Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture by Gene Edward Veith Jr


Being, I suppose, a professional student and spending over fourteen years in undergraduate and graduate education and another seven years as a professor at the collegiate level, it is disappointing the anti-Christian bias that is found on the college campus today.  Instances have ranged from prohibiting Christian clubs from require its leaders (not members), its leaders to be Christian, to being shouted down in class for endorsing Christian views. The rise of anti-Christian bias on campus is evident.  Granted, many of the instances listed here are in no way comparable to what Christians are facing around the world, but an indicator of the rise of this attitude was found in a 2007 study by the Institute for Jewish and Community Research concerning anti-semitism on campus. Rather than finding anti-Semitism, the Institute discovered that 53% of college professors admitted to “unfavorable” feelings about evangelical Christians.  No other religious group (including Muslims) was even close to this number.

Below are some instances of these “unfavorable” feelings about Christians on college and university campuses today:


Oregon State Prof Blames West Coast Fires on Christians (Nov 10, 2020):

Oregon State University - Collegiate Water Polo Association

Kyle Reynolds reports that “Susan Shaw, a professor at Oregon State, claims that ‘White Christians’ are responsible for the extent of the California fires based on their denial of climate science. She additionally claims that ‘the White church is mostly complicit with the intersecting systems of racism and global capitalism that underlie climate change.’ “


Medical Student Expelled for Beliefs (Nov 10, 2020)

University of Manitoba - Wikipedia

The University of Manitoba’s Max Rady College of Medicine expelled Rafael Zaki a Coptic Christian whose parents immigrated from Egypt. Receiving complaints from fellow students who felt “unsafe,” from the mere words he wrote, not in class or on campus, but on Facebook. Expressing his own personal belief on Facebook on pro-life and pro-gun rights for his Sunday School class, Rafael was forced to seven disciplinary meetings and ten written apologies to fellow students and faculty. After pulling the posts down within eighteen hours of the complaint, Rafael was still expelled.

More can be read here which goes on to inform: “In July 2020, the University Discipline Committee determined that on the balance of probabilities, Zaki had committed an act of Non-Academic Misconduct in the form of professional misconduct. The Committee noted there was sufficient evidence to conclude the statements were “misogynistic and hostile to women,” which had a “negative impact on the learning and work environment.” The Committee “determined that a change in the Appellant’s behaviour was essential in order to meet the professionalism standards set by the UGME policies.” At this point, Zaki was expelled altogether.”


Missed this one a couple of years back (Oct 10, 2020):

Georgia Gwinnett College prohibits free speech of Christian student restricted how he can communicate with passers-by on the public campus,. They even stopped him from sharing the gospel in a designated free speech zone.

Student sues Georgia Gwinnett College for censoring speech | News |  gwinnettdailypost.com

This incident is now being challenged by the student in court and is heading to SCOTUS. College Fix updates on this case saying “When Georgia Gwinnett College threatened a student with “disorderly conduct” for sharing his Christian beliefs on campus, Chike Uzuegbunam sued it for violating his First Amendment rights. The taxpayer-funded institution revised its free speech policy after being sued, leading the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to deem the dispute moot earlier this year. Now that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case.” Hopefully they will rule in his favor so this discrimination and persecution of Christians on campus will stop.


Cal State, Fullerton Prof Claims Christianity Promotes White Supremacy (Sept 5, 2020)

Christianity reaffirms white supremacy and upholds racist systems of power according to professor of psychology and sociology at California State University, Fullerton.

CSUF to halt in-person classes due to coronavirus fears, as 2 students are  in self-isolation off campus – Orange County Register

Justin Huft will be presenting a lecture entitled Religiosity and Critical Whiteness: How Christianity Serves White Supremacy to inform his audienc how Christianity reaffirms white supremacy views; including how a “color-blind” approach maintains the optics of being “non-racist,” while upholding racist systems of power. Rod Dreher reports:

we have here a professor at a California state university giving a lecture on how Christianity “contributes” to what the contemporary American left has identified as the greatest social evil of our time. Note that even if Christianity teaches people not to judge others by the color of their skin, it is still white supremacist. How far do you think a Cal State professor would get giving a lecture on how Judaism fosters social evil, or Islam? You know the answer: because anti-Christian bigotry is a sign of enlightenment among these elites.

This is part and parcel of Critical Race Theory which I have written about extensively. Make no mistake Critical Race Theory is no friend to Christianity.


White Christian Privilege Responsible for Slavery, Genocide, and Colonialism (Aug 18, 2020)

Rutgers University (@RutgersU) | Twitter

Rutgers University hosted Professor Khyati Joshi of Fairleigh Dickinson University to explained how “white Christian privilege” is responsible for slavery, genocide and colonialism on September 9, 2020. Joshi, author of White Christian Privilege: The Illusion of Religious Equality in America, is a professor of education who also co-authored and contributed to Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice.

The College Fix reports that:

Joshi’s presentation discussed how whiteness and Christianity are responsible for “genocide,” “slavery” and “colonialism.” She said she wants people to understand “the role Christianity has had in the construction of whiteness.”She said that concepts like manifest destiny, the idea that colonizers were led by God to take over land, prove her points about white supremacy and Christianity.“We have to also take into account the Biblical justification for slavery,” Joshi added.During the hour-long presentation, Joshi explained what white Christian privilege is and the way it manifests itself in society. She said Christian privilege is “built into the edifice” of American jurisprudence. She also talked about how even non-white Christians enjoy some privileges.


UCSB TA Desires to Assassinate Jesus (Aug 10, 2020)

Tim Snediker, a teaching assistant and doctoral student at in the department of religious studies at University of California at Santa Barbara, was asked what he would do if he was sent back in time 2000 year ago. He has deleted the tweet after much critical response. Maybe he was making a joke, but I don’t think it would have been so readily accepted by the university if he mentioned MLK, Muhammad, or Siddartha Gautama. Ironically, the department faculty page in which he is employed and is receiving an education affirms that: “human life is holy because God is holy.” He must have missed that part.


Harvard Law Prof Claims Christian Homeschooling Harmful (May 15, 2020)

If it’s not bad enough Christians face forms of persecution on campus, at Harvard law professor wants to reach not only into the homes of Christians (but that seems to be the major motivation) but into the homes of all parents who want to homeschool their children. Bartholet, the director of the Law School’s Child Advocacy Program, wants to authoritatively stop parents “essentially authoritarian control over their children” believing that homeschooling is a violation of the children’s rights. Homeschooled children, according to Bartholet, can suffer from their parents “extreme religious ideologues” and that the absence of mandated public education results in a threat to U. S. democracy and cannot “contributing positively to a democratic society.” Nevermind that democracy is when the people exercise authority.

Harvard Magazine ran an article about the professor’s position titled “The Risks of Homeschooling.” The truly ironic nature of this Harvard professor’s claim reported in a Harvard magazine, is that so many famous Harvard graduates were homeschooled such as Theodore Roosevelt, who graduated Phi Beta Kappa. Scores of other Harvard (and all the elite colleges in the United States) graduates where homeschooled, including a host of founding fathers who produced the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Another irony, the law professor writes against homeschooling, as parents are forced by the government to homeschool during the Covid-19 incident. The real authoritarian play would be telling parents how to educate their children. There is nothing “democratic” about that.


LGBTQ Activists Demand Restrictions on Harvard Law’s New Religious Freedom Clinic (March 25, 2020)

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“Activists are demanding restrictions on the new legal clinic, including restraints on which clients and subject matter it can take, while enjoying more flexibility for their own preferred clinics, such as the new LGBTQ+ Advocacy Clinic.”

More can be read at The College Fix and Campus Reform.


Arizona State Profs Realize Scientists Are Biased Against Christians (March 8, 2020)

No, Really? Scientists Find Anti-Christian Prejudice in the Science World

In the journal PLOS ONE, four academics from Arizona State University ask, “Are scientists biased against Christians?” In reporting on three different studies, the scientific academic community has a particular bias against evangelicals. Some the findings included the following:

  • biology professors did rate a Christian student who went on a mission trip with Campus Crusade for Christ as less hireable, less competent, and less likeable than a student who did not reveal a Christian identity.
  • while most scholars of religion would consider “fundamentalism” and “evangelicalism” distinct groupsscientists themselves tend to use these terms interchangeably

The abstract for the article reveals that “Christians are one of the most underrepresented groups in science, and one potential explanation is that scientists have a bias against Christian students, which could discourage and actively prevent Christian students from becoming scientists.” So much for scientific objectivity.


Students Say The Bible Is More Dangerous Than The Communist Manifesto at George Washington University (Dec 21, 2020):

Even though it has been shown that religion is good for you, Christianity has supported the well-being than any other movement on the planet, and that Christianity has contributed to morality, freedom, democracy, science, and that the West actually owes its values of equality and human dignity to the religion.

The examples above are the latest in the list. Below is the start of the list, but I didn’t want to reformat because of the time it would take. From this point forward, new examples will be listed above.


“Stomp On Jesus Assignment at FAU” at Townhall – Assignments, not just diatribes by the professor, are part of the “unfavorable” attitudes against Christians.  If it was the name Muhammad, I believe there would have been a very different outcome.

Read the rest of this entry »

religious_pluralism-692131Several years back my eldest son who was in fifth grade at the time was brushing his teeth and getting ready for bed.  He stepped into the hall and yanked the toothbrush out of his mouth, slinging toothpaste against the wall, and asked, “Dad, dad! What about those people who have never heard about Jesus?  Do they go to hell?”

First, what fifth grader thinks about such things when they are brushing there teeth (apparently mine).  Second, this has been one of the formidable issues that I believe any reflective Christian can contemplate.

The issue  at hand is that it seem unfair to us for God to not provide salvation to someone just because they did not get a chance (because of historical or geographical reasons) to hear the gospel when surely some of them would have accepted it if they had heard it.

In helping reflect on this issue properly consider the graph below.  The challenge is “it is unjust (i.e. – unfair) for God to condemn those who never had an opportunity to hear the Gospel.”  According to the graph there are four Screen Shot 2015-05-29 at 8.36.23 AMtypes of people in relation the the gospel being heard or not heard crossed with people freely accepting or rejecting the gospel.

The top left quadrant are people who hear the gospel and freely accept it, the bottom left is people who hear the gospel and freely reject it, and the bottom right are people who don’t hear the gospel but if they did they would freely reject it.  I contend that these three categories of people are created.  When I say created I don’t mean they are made to accept or reject, I mean they are brought into existence with free will and it is their own free choice in accepting and rejecting the gospel.

The bottom right category deserves come explanation.  These people, who don’t hear the gospel, would have freely rejected the gospel but will never hear it.  God is under no obligation to get the gospel to these people because they, under their own free will, would reject the gospel.  Besides that, the charge of injustice is about the fourth category, the top right.

The top right category of people is where the issue resides.  These people never hear the gospel, because of either historical or geographical accident.  For example, the 2nd century inhabitants of North America had no opportunity to hear the gospel because of their location and time of existence.  There is no way the gospel could have been delivered to them by evangelists or missionaries coming down from the disciples.  These people seem to get a raw deal.

But possibly, given Gods infinite wisdom, knowledge, and power he doesn’t allow such people to be created.  Now, if that is the case, which it surely seems possible (that is, there is no logical reason to think it is impossible), then there are no people who would have freely accepted the gospel, but never had a chance to hear it.  This would ensure that anyone who would freely accept the gospel, God, being all-knowing and all-powerful, creates them in the time and place to ensure that they hear the gospel and freely accept it.  This absolves God of any wrong because there are no people who would have freely accepted the gospel but did not get a chance to hear it.

It is just a model, it might be the way reality works it might not, but the point is, if a working model can be developed to absolve God then God, in his infinite wisdom and knowledge and power, should be capable of taking care of reality.  And there seems to be some scriptural support for this model in Act 17:24-27, “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.   And he made from one man every nation of mankind to Screen Shot 2015-05-29 at 8.38.22 AMlive on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us.”

So, when my son ased several year ago “What about those people who have never heard about Jesus?  Do they go to hell?” I was able to honestly and confidentially answer, “Son, if they would freely accept the gospel, God knows that and he ensures that the gospel is delivered to them.”  He was satisfied with that answer and went to bed.  Hopefully, you find this answer satisfying as well.



“What About Those Who Have Never Heard?” podcast by William Lane Craig at Reasonablefaith.org

“How Can Christ Be the Only Way to God?” article by William Lane Craig at Reasonablefaith.org

“If Jesus is the Only Way to God, What About Those Who Have Never Heard of Him?” Chapter 33 by Paul Copan in True For You But Not For Me

“Is Jesus the Only Way to God?” Chapter 10 by William Lane Craig in On Guard

Timothy and Lydia McGrew have undoubtedly championed the apologetic of “undesigned coincidences.” An undesigned coincidence is “a notable connection between two or more accounts or texts that don’t seem to have been planned by the person or people giving the accounts. Despite their apparent independence, the items fit together like pieces of a puzzle.” The result of finding these coincidences is discovering that the texts in questions (the Gospels, Acts, and letters of the New Testament in this case) are historically reliable and trustworthy. Here is a short video description of undesigned coincidences by Timothy McGrew:

Timothy McGrew, who is a professor of philosophy and chair of the department of philosophy at Western Michigan University, has spoken extensively on undesigned coincidences, but his wife, Lydia McGrew, has written most recently about undesigned coincidences. Lydia is a widely published analytic philosopher, specializing in formal and classical theory of knowledge, testimony, and philosophy of religion. She received a PhD in English from Vanderbilt University. She wrote Hidden in Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts, the most current book on the topic. The phrase “undesigned coincidences” was coined by William Paley and was further developed and elaborated by John James Blunt.

Lydia McGrew: Confidence in the Gospels (With Infographic) | The Stream

Recently, on Lydia McGrew’s youtube page, she and her husband have been posting some excellent short videos of Timothy McGrew elaborating on these coincidences. The youtube page also contains her responses to Mike Licona’s video critiques of her other book The Mirror or the Mask (which you can catch up on that debate here). Here are just some of the dozen they have posted (all of which are under 2 minutes):

Definitely check out this excellent apologetic resource.

Zondervan Academic has just released their new book on apologetics: The History of Apologetics: A Biographical and Methodological Introduction edited by Benjamin Forrest, Joshua Chatraw, and Alister McGrath.

TL;TR – 44 biographical sketches of Christian apologists from the early church to the present organized around a structure that is biographical and methodological.

The Good News and the Bad News.

The Bad:

The History of Apologetics: A Biographical and Methodological ...

First the bad news. A better title would have been The History of Apologists. It technically is not a history of apologetics, but a compendium of collected articles on various apologists who have contributed to the field of defending the faith. It is a series of mini-biographies (44 in total) of Christians apologists. A history of apologetics would be a narrative history of an idea or what historians call an intellectual history. As such, a true history of apologetics would be a historical narrative around a major idea (in this case, apologetics) and would follow the development of that idea as it manifests itself in different contexts and times. While this book follows the development of apologetics as expressed by various Christian defenders, it is not a narrative telling of the idea of apologetics. As far as I know, there is only one true book written on the history of apologetics, which ironically has a similar title: A History of Apologetics by Avery Cardinal Dulles from a distinctively Catholic perspective.

The Good:

Now, after clarifying what the book really is (a collection of mini-biographies of apologists who have contributed to apologetics) and what it is not (a narrative history of apologetics), let me say that this is a fantastic book. The danger of any collected work is the strength of some contributors and the weakness of others. Here the editors have made an astute decision to organize the book in such a way that “while allowing for authorial voice” will provide a loose “structure through the book so that the readers can seamlessly move from one chapter to the next without a jarring reorientation in style” (24). They hoped that this would make the book more readable, and it does. Here is the “loose” structure for each chapter: 1. historical background, 2. theological context, 3. apologetic response, 4. apologetic methodology, 5. contributions to the field of apologetics. It is loose because the contributors at times combined sections as they felt the need.

For example, on the chapter on Tertullian, we start with a brief “Historical Background” on his life as a brilliant, fiery African who spent his life in the Roman outpost of Carthage. This is followed by the “Theological Context” of the specific conditions Tertullian faced apologetically, namely, his main opponents of the Greco-Roman pagans, the heretical Gnostics, and the Jews. The “Apologetic Response” is provided to the challenges against Christianity with brief surveys of several of his works such as his Apology, Prescription against Heretics, and Against the Jews. How the defender developed the process of doing apologetics philosophically, theologically, biblically, and practically is examined in a section titled “Apologetical Methodology.” And finally, each chapter concludes with a reflection on the apologetical contributions made by the individual to the field at large.

Obvious apologists in the book included Augustine, Aquinas, C. S. Lewis, and William Lane Craig, but lesser known or little discussed individuals included Timothy I of Baghdad, Gregory Palamas, A. E. Taylor, and, surprisingly, Charles Taylor.

This is a great compendium to the field of apologetics. Readable summaries of the apologists in church history that remind us of the contributes they made along with introducing us to some lesser known defenders of the faith.

While not a true narrative history of apologetics, it is an excellent resource. What it brings to light is the need of a true narrative history of apologetics from a Protestant perspective that is sorely lacking in the literature today.

[UPDATE: July 5, 2020]

Huge Oversight:

Any book with this size and scope will inevitably have to make choices on who to put in and who to leave out. That is understandable, but it seems they have one gross oversight in this book: Norman Geisler. How does this book leave out one of the seminal figures of apologetics in last half of the 20th century and early 21st century. Here is my short biographical sketch of this apologist who should have been included in this work.

Norman Geisler (1932-2019)

A quick bio of Geisler from http://normangeisler.com/about/: Norm authored or co-authored over 100 books and hundreds of articles. He taught theology, philosophy, and classical Christian apologetics on the undergraduate and graduate level for over 50 years and served as a professor at some of the finest seminaries in the United States, including Trinity Evangelical Seminary, Dallas Theological Seminary, Veritas International University, and Southern Evangelical Seminary.

Education: BA, Wheaton College: MA, Wheaton Graduate School, ThB, William Tyndale College, PhD, Loyola University.

Educational Experience: Taught at the following institutions – Wheaton, Detroit Bible College, Trinity College, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (chairman of philosophy department), Dallas Theological Seminary, Liberty University (dean), Southern Evangelical Seminary (co-founded, dean, president), and Veritas International University (co-founder, chancellor).

Professional Contribution: First president of the Evangelical Philosophical Society, General Editor and Director of Publications for the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI), member of the Drafting Committee for the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI), President of the Evangelical Theological Society (1998), Co-founder (2006) and President (2006-2008) of the International Society of Christian Apologetics, Pastor and co-Pastor of numerous churches in Michigan, Illinois, Texas, and North Carolina.

Books: Authored, Co-Authored, and/or Edited 129 books notably: A General Introduction to the Bible  (1968), Philosophy of Religion (1974, revised and republished 1988 and 2021), Christian Apologetics (1976), Biblical Errancy: Its Philosophical Roots (1981, republished 2013), The Battle for the Resurrection (1989), Come Let Us Reason: An Introduction to Logical Thinking (1990), Thomas Aquinas: An Evangelical Appraisal (1991), Answering Islam (1993), Baker’s Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (1999), Why I Am a Christian: Leading Thinkers Explain Why they Believe (2001), I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (2004), Systematic Theology, Vol. 1 (2002-2005), Reasons for Faith: Making a Case for the Christian Faith (2007), and Defending Inerrancy: Affirming the Accuracy of Scriptures for a New Generation (2012).

Debated: Dr. Michael Scriven, Dr. Joseph E. Barnhart, Dr. Jonathan Saville, Dr. William Wisdom, Dr. K. Kolenda, Dr. Norman Beck, Dr. William De Vries, Dr. Thor Hall, Dr. Claud Rupert, Dr. Paul Edwards, Rabbi Harold Kushner, Dr. Paul Kurtz, and Dr. John Cobb (along with others).

Here is a 13 minute interview of Geisler:

Lydia’s Counterpunch:

Lydia McGrew answers blow for blow in her response series. Here is the first video response in the series:

Looks like the bout is going to the next round June 1 with Licona’s video release announcing a new series titled “Lydia McGrew Answered!”:

You can read this article to catch up with the showdown.

“LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

A controversy has been brewing over the past several years over interpreting the Gospels and how to defend their basic historic reliability. This match of the century is sure to interest those concerned with biblical accuracy, scriptural interpretation, and New Testament studies.

In this corner is:

And in this corner is:

  • Lydia McGrew
  • Ph.D. in English Literature at Vanderbilt University
  • Published analytic philosopher
  • Weighing in with “undesigned coincidences” and “harmonization”
  • Author of The Mirror and the Mask (DeWard, 2019)

Background of Match:

Michael R. Licona, after publishing his voluminous dissertation on the topic of the resurrection with The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, began to explore the possibility of explaining differences in the Gospel accounts by turning to Plutarch, the first century Greek historian who wrote on the lives of Greek and Roman individuals. The issue here concerns how the Gospels report on the same events in different ways.

There is no doubt that the reporting of the same event between two Gospels are different. For example, it is well known that the narrative of the empty tomb of Jesus being discovered by the women have divergent accounts. In Matthew 28:5-7 the narrative mentions only one angel at the empty tomb, while the same narrative event in John 20:10-13 mentions two angels being at the empty tomb. Another example is the servant of the Roman centurion that Jesus healed in Capernaum (which is recorded in both Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10). Matthew makes it seem that the centurion met Jesus face to face, while Luke explains that the centurion used the Jewish elders to speak to Jesus as emissaries. Traditionally, biblical scholars have attempted different harmonizations between the accounts.

Round One: Compositional Devices

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Entering the arena is Licona with his Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?: What We Can Learn from Ancient Biography (2017) in which he presents compositional devices (or literary devices) as commonly employed by ancient authors (such as Plutarch). This powerhouse of a punch was published by Oxford University Press, no less (hey, I haven’t published with OUP, but I have published with wordpress.com, yeah, that’s right, you envious). With endorsements from J. I. Packer, Scot McKnight, and Michael Kochenash, it looked like Licona was going to win the match with no one showing up to challenge him (except for Bart Ehrman, who is always good for a sparring match).

Licona applies this approach to various narratives that are in two or more of the Gospels, arguing that the major differences found there are likely a result from the same compositional devices employed by Plutarch. His aim is to “investigate compositional devices that are often inferred by classical scholars in order to see if the existence of these devices may be more firmly established and provide insights into many of the differences in the Gospels.” (3)

Image result for plutarch's lives

The compositional devices apparently found by Licona in the works of Plutarch include: Transferal, Displacement, Conflation, Compression, Spotlighting, Simplification, Expansion of Narrative Details, and Paraphrasing.

Some of these devices are defined by Liconas –Compression: When an author knowingly portrays events over a shorter period of time than they had actually occurred. Transferral: When an author knowingly attributes words or actions to a person that he knew belonged to another. Displacement: When an author knowingly removes an event from its original context and places it in another.

So, returning to the example of the centurion in the narrative of Matthew and Luke, instead of harmonizing the accounts, Licona employs the compositional device called transference in which “Matthew simplified the story by transferring what one character said to the lips of another.”

In short, Licona says that some of the differences in the gospels (such as the baptism of Jesus by John the baptist, the man with the withered hand, the two blind men, the resurrection accounts, etc.) are explained by these literary devices.

Licona concludes that certain apparent points of difference in the gospels reflect common first-century narrative devices by which some events, sayings, and so on may be reported differently at different times for different purposes. Because these were common devices, Licona suggests that first century readers would not see that the gospels as needing reconciling, because ancient biographies employed this standard practice of compositional devices.

This approach to the Gospels “will require a paradigm shift,” according to Licona. “Especially for those outside academia who may tend to read the Gospels anachronistically as though ancient biographers and historians wrote with the same objectives and conventions as their modern cousins.” Traditional, straightforward readings of the text will have to be replaced with this new approach. “Fortunately, historical nearsightedness can be corrected with the proper glasses. We craft the proper lenses by reading a significant amount of literature from the period, which improves our understanding of the genre to which the Gospels belong. Like anyone who begins to wear glasses, some initial discomfort and adjusting will occur.” (201)

Round Two: The Challenger

Image result for lydia mcgrew

But, a challenger has arisen. Entering into the arena is Lydia McGrew. McGrew, the wife of esteemed husband Timothy McGrew, has turned her attention to the usage of compositional or literary devices by Licona, after publishing Hidden in Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts (an aside: interestingly, the titles of Lydia’s books sound more like a British mystery novels than rigorous analysis of New Testament texts) which is a revival of an argument for the historical reliability of the New Testament that has been largely neglected for more than a hundred years. Undesigned coincidences are casual, yet puzzle-like “fits” between two or more texts, which the best explanation is that the authors knew the truth about the events they describe.

After writing her highly praised book on undesigned coincidences, she has donned the gloves once again and is challenging the current champion of literary devices. Lydia claims that Licona has has failed “to establish the existence and acceptance, even in non-biblical literature [i.e., Plutarch], of the fictionalizing devices he defines, and he fails a fortiori to establish that the authors of the Gospels ever employed such devices.” The term fictionalizing devices is McGrew’s term not Liconas. But that is McGrew’s point. She is pointing out that most of these compositional devices Licona is utilizing deliberately alters the facts, which Licona readily admits. For example, Licona states in a online published debate with Bart Ehrman over the reliability of the New Testament that “if Plutarch can alter the year in which Caesar wept in order to emphasize Caesar’s ambitious character, John could alter the day and time of Jesus’s crucifixion to symbolize the sacrificial quality of Jesus’s death and be well within the bounds of the literary conventions under which both operated.”

She began by jabbing at Licona’s thesis on her blog with numerous and extensive critiques. Her first blow was “A Gospel Fictionalization Theory Is No Help to the Gospel” landed just before the release of Licona’s Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?

It was shortly there after that Lydia began a volley of punches, one after the other, seeming to stun Licona with no response. From the beginning of 2017 to the end 2018, Lydia published 34 posts on the issue of literary devices (the total number of posts now exceeds 45). Some of the issues she wrote included:

Some of the issues of concern brought up in her posts include:

  • Did Jesus actually say, “I thirst,” or was that made up by John?
  • Did Jesus actually say, “It is finished,” or was that made up by John as a “redaction of the tradition”?
  • Did Jesus breathe on his disciples and say, “Receive the Holy Ghost,” or was that incident invented by John?
  • Did Mark deliberately suppress the conversion of the thief on the cross in order to make Jesus appear to have been rejected by all?
  • Did John deliberately change the day of the crucifixion to make a theological point?
  • Does Luke “put” all of the events of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday when he knew that all didn’t occur on that single day?

Tom Gilson, editor at The Stream (mentioned below for more detail), who is a personal friend of Licona, asks, “Where the text says Jesus says, ‘It is finished,’ can we we be confident he actually said that? Lydia’s position is to say yes; Mike’s position takes that as a possibly a redaction or summary of some other saying, for example ‘Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.’ ” Gilson goes on to point out, “I’ve heard plenty of sermons on ‘It is finished.’ If Jesus didn’t actually say that, then a whole lot of conservative pastors and churches need to know that their sermons on this — in which they confidently claim Jesus spoke these very words — are  uninformed, incorrect, and misleading. They are wrong, that is, to the extent that they attribute those very words to Jesus. But this is really quite important, isn’t it? It’s too important to pass by.”

Some of the concerns caused by Licona’s literary devices deal with the historical accuracy of the Gospels. For example, Licona (as well as Craig Evans) doubts that Jesus uttered the “I am” statements in the Gospel of John; Luke “compressed” the location of Jesus appearance to Jerusalem when he knew they were in Galilee; and other alterations of the facts.

Licona believes this was the norm for ancient biography and that “it would be plausible that we would see the same amount of flexibility in the Gospels as we observe in other ancient biographies. So, I wanted to learn what those flexibilities were. By carefully reading ancient biographies written around the same time as the Gospels and comparing how they tell the same stories differently, I began to recognize that some of the differences resulted from compositional devices. Then when I went to the Gospels, I could see that the authors were probably employing the same compositional devices as other ancient biographers; specifically Plutarch. I began to realize that the differences across the Gospels are not so much contradictions but the result of compositional devices that were the standard practice in historical writing of that day.”

Nevertheless, Lydia has raised some major concerns with this approach to the Gospels. And the concerns are not just from conservatives or evangelicals, but also from skeptics such as Bart Ehrman. In a written exchange on the reliability of the New Testament, Ehrman notes that if literary devices are used in the Gospels to change details, that doesn’t lend itself to confidence in the historical accuracy of the accounts, it actually leds one to lose confidence in the accounts:

So, does Matthew accurately describe what actually happened in Jesus’s life? Mike [Licona] has already told us that he thinks in some cases the answer is no. Matthew has employed literary license in order to change details in his accounts so they didn’t happen as he described, and he tells some stories that are “non-historical” — that is, they didn’t happen at all. But Mike then wants to say that Matthew is, despite all that, historically reliable. I don’t think most people would think that this is what we today mean by “historically reliable.” And I think a lot of people — including many people reading this back and forth — would very much like to know how often Mike thinks this sort of thing happens in Matthew. Does Matthew frequently change his stories and make up other ones that he doesn’t think happened? How would we know? If an author is willing to change the details of one story, why not other stories? Why not lots of stories? Why not most of his stories? And how would we know? Moreover, if he is willing to make up a story and present it as something that happened when he knew full well that it didn’t happen (as Mike concedes Matthew did), then how often did he do that? A few other times? Lots of other times? If he did it lots, how is he accurate?

Returning the match between Lydia and Licona, we find Licona dancing around the ring as Lydia takes swing after swing after swing in her blog posts. Licona finally answers with a uppercut on his website Risen Jesus: “Are We Reading An Adapted Form of Jesus’ Teachings in John’s Gospel?” Blocking the barrage of punches from Lydia, Licona responds by stating:

One of my recent online critics, Lydia McGrew (Ph.D. in English Literature, Vanderbilt University), asserted that Professor Evans’s view of the “I am” statements in John is dangerous and that, in my explanation of why most scholars have arrived at a similar conclusion, I had thrown “all of the ‘I am’ statements under the bus.” For by saying John was paraphrasing Jesus with the “I am” statements, it was just another phrase for “making stuff up.” She then adds, “Licona is expressly arguing that Jesus would not and hence did not publicly, clearly, and overtly claim to be God in the real world. But in John he does do so. No use of the term ‘paraphrase’ nor the phrase ‘ipsissima vox’ (which I believe Evans originated) can get around this.” The error with Lydia’s statement is that I did not say this. Here is what I wrote: “Those are just some of the reasons why scholars see John adapting Jesus’ teachings.”

He goes on to counter punch by replying:

Throughout the book [Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?], I provide various options of what I think could be going on that resulted in one Gospel reporting an event differently than another. On most occasions, I state which option I think best explains the difference and why, while on others I reserve making a choice and merely note the difference. Lydia then writes, “Saddened as I am by what Dr. Licona is apparently endorsing, I’m afraid that I think this is a crucial enough matter that it needs to be known. Jesus’ claims to deity are, to put it mildly, important, and so people should know when scholars think he didn’t make them. I pray that the Lord will use any such publicizing and/or criticisms that come as a result to motivate Dr. Licona to reconsider.” To this concern I want to be clear: I have not denied that Jesus made claims of deity. I have argued in public debate that he did (http://bit.ly/2ydv1dA). And last week I submitted a chapter arguing the same in even more depth to be included in a book published by T&T Clark. So, it is not a matter of whether Evans, I, or another scholar think Jesus made claims of deity. I think that He did. It’s a matter of whether Jesus made those claims implicitly and John recast them in an explicit manner. In John, are we reading Jesus’ words or the message behind them? That’s the question. Asserting that I or Evans or another are denying that Jesus made claims of deity is simplifying the matter to a point that it borders on deceit.

After throwing this punch, and McGrew responding with a quick jab, Licona returned to his corner of the ring and something surprising occured (or should I say something didn’t occur):

-Licona never returned to the match.-

Image result for empty boxing ring

The Match That Never Took Place

Here is where it gets interesting (if you haven’t found compositional devices, harmonization, and the reliability of the Gospels interesting enough). As the match was getting ready to enter the third round, Licona refused to continue.

Lydia posted about this on her website “Licona Declines Exchange in Philosophia Christi.” I will let her words fill in the details:

About a month ago, after J.P. Moreland had endorsed my work concerning alleged literary devices in the gospels, I made the suggestion to several people that Mike Licona and I might have a scholarly exchange in the pages of Philosophia Christi about his work. Phil. Christi is an excellent journal and has hosted symposia of this kind before. Over a decade ago, Tim McGrew and I had an exchange on the historical argument for the resurrection with Alvin Plantinga in the pages of Philosophia Christi. Phil. Christi was open to the idea. If Dr. Licona had been agreeable, the discussion would have come to pass. A third party made contact with him to suggest it. I have just recently been told that he has declined, without citing a reason.

At this point of the match, a referee enters the ring to officiate between Licona and Lydia. Enter: Tom Gilson.

Tom Gilson (mentioned above), is an author and speaker and senior editor and ministry coordinator at The Stream. He blogs at Thinking Christian. Gilson begins to narrate the issue between Licona and Lydia on his blog site with a series of posts about the disagreement. He begins with “On the Disagreement Between Lydia McGrew and Michael Licona Regarding Differences in the Gospels.” His candor and openness is evident in the first lines of his blog:

Image result for tom gilson

Two friends of mine are in deep disagreement. Because it involves friends, it’s become one of the more painful things I’ve ever had to watch unfold. I’ve spoken at length with both of them about it. I’m in no position to judge their disagreement on the merits of their positions, and I won’t begin to try to comment on that part of it here. But I’ve been named publicly on Facebook as having been involved behind the scenes, so I think I need to say something more about it in public.

Gilson explains the situation by stating that Lydia is claiming that Licona is misreading Plutarch, and he is inaccurate in drawing the conclusions he’s drawn from Plutarch; and that differences in the gospels can easily explained through harmonization. “In essence he’s [Licona] using wrong means to solve problems that don’t need solving.”

Gilson explains that both Licona and Lydia had read earlier drafts of his post, except for the closing three points. The three points are a call by Gilson for Licona to respond to Lydia’s critiques: “I’m convinced it would behoove him to respond to Lydia’s critique, in the right public venue, for three reasons.”

The three points Gilson concludes with are:

  • Lydia’s position is much closer than Liconas to the traditional and natural reading of Scripture.
  • If Licona’s position is right, he has a duty to explain it in such a way that the rest of conservative Christianity can get on board with it, and begin teaching the Bible correctly.
  • The usual way hermeneutical disagreements work their way toward agreement — agreement the Church can own as its own — is through vigorous debate; and not just debate carried on between individuals but across a broader community of scholars. That debate doesn’t seem likely to happen unless Licona takes the next step.

Eight days after this post by Gilson, Licona returns to the ring with a response on Gilson’s blog page. His response was that he would not respond: “Allow me to explain why I have declined to engage her. My schedule is filled to the brim.” He goes on to explain:

Engaging with Lydia would require a significant amount of time. . . . I’d probably be looking at a solid week of work. Then, if Lydia’s past actions are indicative of what would happen next, she would write very long replies to my responses. And those now desiring me to reply would also want for me to reply to her reply. To do that would require another week’s work. . . . I’m virtually certain things would not end there, since Lydia would feel compelled to reply to my second reply. And the process goes on, requiring even more hours. (Even a back and forth for Philosophia Christi would require a chunk of time.)

Interestingly, Licona offers a pinch hitter (sorry for mixing my metaphors, but there wasn’t as good a term from boxing):

Therefore, I will leave to others the task of engaging with her. And there is one who is both qualified and willing to do just that. My friend Kurt Jaros has already engaged with Lydia in the CAA Facebook group.

As if on a tag team for wrestling, Licona taps in Kurt Jaros to enter the ring. Jaros runs a website and podcast called Veracity Hill and has gone on to host Licona’s podcast for Risen Jesus. (the entry music for this blog is the best entry music of any blog I have ever heard). Over at Veracity Hill Jaros begins to respond to some of Lydia’s critiques.

Lydia’s response to Licona is linked in Gilson’s post of April 21. She makes three points: 1) Dr. Licona appears to have not even read her critique of his work, 2) Dr. Licona’s repeated references to “what would happen”–to endless debates and so forth–are not addressed to the exchange in Phil. Christi, which would be limited in scope, and 3) “The reference to Mike’s personal friend Kurt Jaros as offering to debate me, and my alleged decline of that suggestion, is quite pointless.”

On of the more awkward issues to arise in this match was mentioned by Licona in his response to Lydia in Gilson’s post: Lydia’s tone. Licona says, “I do not feel a necessity to spend the sort of time and emotional capital required to engage Lydia, especially when her critiques are seasoned with a tone that I consider less than charitable, to put it mildly.” (emphasis added) Gilson comments that “I’m aware there are differences of opinion on whether Lydia’s approach, venue, and tone have been appropriately scholarly.” Jaros, who Licona tapped in (again mixing sport metaphors), began to blog on Lydia’s “tone.”

It seemed that the match was over before it even began. But, Lydia was not out for the count yet. Lydia went on to publish in Themelios, an International Journal for Students of Theological and Religious Studies a critique titled “Finessing Independent Attestation: A Study in Interdisciplinary Biblical Criticism” which she argues that “multiple attestation is crucial in biblical studies, particularly in historical Jesus studies. While doubts are often conceded about the historicity of a singly-attested incident, when there is reason to believe that an event has been attested in multiple independent sources it is often accepted despite a hesitation to affirm the strong historical reliability of the individual documents.” In this critique she interacted extensively with Licona’s work as well as other New Testament evangelical scholars like Craig Keener, Daniel Wallace, and William Lane Craig.

But that article was just a wind up for her real power punch:

Lydia’s Power Punch:

At the end of 2019, Lydia published The Mirror and the Mask: Liberating the Gospels from Literary Devices. Weighing in at 560 pages the book description states:

In recent years a number of evangelical scholars have claimed that the Gospel authors felt free to present events in one way even though they knew that the reality was different. Analytic philosopher Lydia McGrew brings her training in the evaluation of evidence to bear, investigates these theories about the evangelists’ literary standards in detail, and finds them wanting. At the same time she provides a nuanced, positive view of the Gospels that she dubs the reportage model. Clearing away misconceptions of this model, McGrew amasses objective evidence that the evangelists are honest, careful reporters who tell it like it is. Meticulous, well-informed, and accessible, The Mirror or the Mask is an important addition to the libraries of laymen, pastors, apologists, and scholars who want to know whether the Gospels are reliable.

With endorsements from scholars such as Peter J. Williams, J. P. Moreland, Craig L. Blomberg, and John Warwick Montgomery, The Mirror and the Mask is Lydia’s detailed and officially published critique of Licona’s literary devices. Tom Gilson posted the article: From Friend to Friend: My View on Lydia McGrew’s The Mirror or the Mask, and Why Mike Licona Won’t Want to Ignore It saying “Mike and his colleagues need to engage with Lydia in this. He’s put a set of questions on the table. Lydia has answered, and persuasively. Who’s right? The Church needs them to work toward an answer, one that all conservative, believing Christians can be confident of. It’s crucial to everything we know, or think we know, about the Gospels.”

In a follow up post Gilson asks a serious question: Does Mike Licona’s position require plutarch as the key to the gospels? He expands on the point of his question:

Mike’s position seems to require Christians to know and understand classical Greek and Roman models of authorship. It is the key to understanding the Gospels. Without that knowledge, we are absolutely certain to misunderstand what the Gospels are saying. Mike holds as firmly as ever to the essential facts of Jesus’ life and teaching, but he stands there by running the Gospel content through a Plutarchian lens. Certain facts in the Gospels are not what they seem to be. Jesus never said, “I thirst,” and we know he didn’t because we’ve studied the account with this classical literature filter in place.

But it isn’t just passages like “I thirst” that have this filter placed over them. It’s the entirety of the Gospels, all four of them. The filter has especially powerful effects on how we interpret John, where changes were made in the reportage to emphasize Jesus’ deity. But the reason we know the filter is more prominent there, and has less of an effect in the Synoptics, is because we understand the filter. It isn’t just because John differs in significant ways from the Synoptics; those differences could be explained in other ways. (That’s the subject of Lydia’s next book.)

And if you read the quote above carefully, you heard Gilson correctly, Lydia is coming out of the corner with a one-two combo. She is already writing a second book on the historical reliability of John’s gospel, tentatively titled: The Eye of the Beholder.

While my post is not an exhaustive blow by blow of this match (lots have been mentioned about Lydia’s tone, Licona’s refusal to swing back, and a swing and miss about Lydia’s credentials (here, here, here, and here). These punches aside, what really needs to be examined is the case that Licona and Lydia give for and against literary devices in the New Testament, and the consequences of historical reliability for the Gospels in particular and the New Testament in general. As Gilson ended one of his posts about this match, I also find that this is “an urgent question. I’d be interested to hear what Mike would say in response” [emphasis in original].

Round Three: Lydia McGrew Answered! [UPDATE: May 26]

And the wait is over. The heavyweight (i.e., Licona) has decided to respond. Releasing the following video:

With the flair of Mohammad Ali, Licona states that “those are bold claims, but does she support them succesfully? Join me [June 1, 2020] as I discuss Lydia McGrew’s book The Mirror or the Mask. Oh, bring your umbrella, because it will be raining cold hard facts.”

This blow is followed by the following quote from the legendary heavy weight apologist William Lane Craig:

Michael Licona’s groundbreaking work on compositional devices employed in Plutarch’s Lives and in the New Testament Gospels has been vigorously challenged by Lydia McGrew’s iconoclastic critique. In this engaging series Licona effectively rebuts these criticisms, showing that such compositional devices were not only taught to ancient historical writers and employed by ancient biographers like Plutarch but were also virtually undeniably employed by the evangelists in their accounts of the life of Jesus. Licona’s irenic and careful sifting of the criticisms serves to illumine the sort of freedom enjoyed by the Gospel writers and has important theological lessons to teach us about the nature of scriptural inspiration and authority.

In explaining why he is now responding Licona states: “Because Mike usually has no interest in “in-house theological debates,” he has refused to respond for the past few years. However, the division this in-house debate is causing in the Body of Christ and the many continuous requests he has received to reply to McGrew has led to his decision to offer this response.”

Tune in June 1, 2020 on Licona’s youtube page to see the bout continue to the next round. Given the stakes and past indications, this match is sure to go a full twelve rounds before it is all said and done.

Blow by Blow (Resources):

Left Hook (Books):

By Licona:

By McGrew:

Right Hook (Articles):

Uppercut (Videos):

  • “Six Bad Habits of New Testament Scholars (and how to avoid them): Dr. Lydia McGrew” at Apologetics Academy. – McGrew talks about six bad habits frequently committed by New Testament scholars, and gives advice on how to avoid them on Jonathan McLatchie’s Apologetics Academy webinar.
  • “Undesigned Coincidences – Dr. Lydia McGrew” – McGrew presents on undesigned coincidences to the student group called Ratio Christi on Western Michigan University.
  • “Are there Contradictions in the Gospels?” – Dr. Licona presents on the differences in the Gospels at Kennesaw State University on October 11, 2017 for Ratio Christi.
  • “Is the Bible Inerrant?” – Dr. Michael Licona debates Dr. Richard Howe on inerrancy in which many of the issues concerning compositional devices arise in the debate and discussion.
  • “Gospel Differences & Compositional Textbooks” – Licona claims that training in rhetoric was part of the educational process for aspiring authors in antiquity. That process included work using compositional textbooks, also referred to as rhetorical handbooks. Exercises in these trained the student to alter texts in the interest of paraphrasing. Not surprisingly, when reading ancient texts, including the Gospels, we observe their authors altering their source texts as trained. This practice resulted in differences in the way a story was reported. The differences are minor but of interest.