Here's my answer to this week's challenge:
Here's my answer to this week's challenge:
In a post titled “How Movies Teach Our Kids about Gender” at Everyday Theology, Marc Cortez summarizes a recent TED Talk given by Colin Stokes:
I’d never heard of the Bechdel Test, but it’s a way of gauging how a movie portrays its female characters. And it’s a pretty simple test.
- Are there at least two women who actually have lines?
- Do these women talk to each other at any point in the movie?
- Is there conversation about something other than the guy that they both like?...
[Q]uite a few movies fail to achieve even this low standard. Either the movie has almost no significant female characters, or it fails to show them interacting with other women on issues unrelated to dating and/or marriage.
Although I always notice when a movie fails to have a significant female character, I’d never considered the importance of showing female characters talking meaningfully about important issues. The male characters do it all the time, and thus provide strong reinforcement that men can have those kinds of conversations. Even if it’s becoming more common for female characters to engage in the same conversations, we rarely see them having those conversations with each other, reinforcing the notion that women don’t talk about those things. I certainly don’t want my girls growing up thinking that they have to sit at the guys table if they want to talk about politics, theology, and other important issues (like football).
The problem I have with this analysis is that he’s made an assumption that’s never challenged, and it’s this: the macro issues are what’s really important.
Imagine if someone had created the opposite test in order to bring attention to how rarely Hollywood shows a group of men talking about issues relating to dating and/or marriage, chastising Hollywood for reinforcing the notion that men don't talk about these things. Do you ever hear concern expressed about that? No, because there’s an unspoken assumption that of course everyone should be like men.
I appreciate that
this man thinks he’s helping women, but he’s actually devaluing them because
here’s what he’s saying: “Men are better than women because we focus on macro
issues (politics, nation, etc.—notice how he refers to these as the “important issues”) and they
focus on micro issues (relationships, family, etc.). Therefore, to help women,
we must encourage them to become more like men.”
If our culture valued micro issues, then women would feel more free to invest themselves in them without feeling guilty they’re not acting like men, and our society would be much better off. Just think how different things would be if our culture valued motherhood as highly as involvement in macro issues. Think of the sacrifices families would make to have and care for more children. Think of how issues like abortion and low marriage and birth rates (with all their accompanying societal problems) might be improved. There’s a macro cost to devaluing micro strengths.
I don’t fit in well in women’s groups because I do tend to focus more on macro issues. I don’t know how to do crafts, or create beauty, or entertain small children, or most anything that women usually excel at, but heaven forbid I should look down on those women and think they should be more like me! On the contrary, I know I’m womandicapped—lacking something truly good. I honor the unique contribution of women, and we should be encouraged to excel in all these micro things.
And I hate to tell him, but we usually do have to “sit at the guys’ table” if we want to talk about macro issues. If more than two women are together, we don’t tend to gravitate towards macro topics. That’s just reality. Why not celebrate what women have to offer rather than turn every table into a “guys’ table”?
Those of us who are interested in Christian Case Making (and feel called to respond to Peter’s admonition in 1 Peter 3:15-16) usually spend time preparing to defend what we believe. We think diligently about the issues and evidences; we prepare ourselves to articulate the arguments and philosophical premises. We envision ourselves making the case for Christianity. Sometimes we even think of ourselves as characters in a courtroom setting: detectives and prosecutors who cleverly and powerfully make the case for Christ. We think about sharpening our investigative skills or our skills as presenters, hoping that our excellence in these areas will make us better Case Makers. We seldom stop to think about the fact that most cases are won or lost well before the opening statements are made by prosecutors or defense attorneys. Most cases are decided very early, at the point of jury selection.
You can have a great case but lose miserably if you don’t have the right jury. That’s why prosecutors and defense attorneys have come to specialize (or hire experts) in jury selection. Both sides are looking for jurors who are not biased against some aspect of their case; better yet, each side would like to fill the jury with people who are inclined to agree with their position, even before they start the trial. A lot of effort is expended trying to figure out which twelve people (from the larger jury pool) should be selected. We use surveys and questionnaires and we ask important questions of each juror as we try our best to sort through the candidates, looking for presuppositional biases that may hurt our chances. No one wants to present a criminal case to a group that hasn’t been carefully screened, questioned and examined. If we aren’t careful to assemble the right jury, our efforts to articulate and argue the case will be meaningless.
I’ve often said the best jurors are simply smart and interested citizens who are humble enough not to presume they know the answer before they hear the question, and it’s important to understand these characteristics of good jurors if we hope to have an impact as Christian Case Makers. If you’ve spent time thinking through the evidence and you think you are prepared to make a case for what you believe as a Christian, take an equally conscientious approach to the selection of your potential jury. Is the person you are about to engage ready to submit to the truth? Prideful, arrogant jurors are a liability. In the years before God removed my enmity toward him, I was simply too arrogant to even consider the evidence fairly. I was not ready to sit on this jury. Is the person you are preparing to engage interested in examining the case for God’s existence or the reliability of the Bible? Prior to God’s calling in my own life, these issues couldn’t have been farther from my mind. I was completely uninterested. I was not ready to sit on this jury. Is the person you’re about to engage capable of comprehending the evidence you are about to share? Are you ready to translate difficult concepts so the person to whom you are talking can catch the ideas you are throwing? Prior to God moving in my own life, I had become intellectually lazy and never saw Christianity as a robust, intellectual worldview. I was not ready to sit on this jury.
Have you noticed the common theme here? Until God does something first to ignite the passion, interest and intellect of potential jury members, Case Makers like you and I are going to have a difficult time making a case. Only after God removed my enmity was I ready to hear what anyone had to say about Him. As I travel, work and play, I’m looking for signs of God’s involvement in the lives of non-believers in my midst. There are some people I’ve known for years who suddenly become interested in the things of God; when I see that happen, I seat them on my jury as fast as I can. God is already moving in their lives, now it’s time for me to be used as the means by which God will show Himself. I am only a small part of what God is already doing, but I am ready to play my role, helping to remove the obstacles and answer the tough questions as people consider the truth about God. If you want to be an effective Christian Case Maker, get prepared, examine the evidence, and do your homework. But don’t forget the most important part: select your jury carefully.
I don’t want students to merely believe true things. That’s a start, but it’s not enough. I want students to know true things. So what’s the difference?
What would you think if I said I know it’s raining outside, but I didn’t believe it was raining outside? You’d be puzzled. It doesn’t make sense to say I know something that at the same time I don’t actually believe. All the facts we think we know are also facts we believe, so knowledge includes belief.
What if I said I know it’s raining outside, but it’s not true that it’s raining outside? Again, you’d be confused and wonder, “How can you know something that’s not true?” You can’t. A belief is true if it matches reality and it’s false if it doesn’t. So to say someone’s belief is false means they don’t know. Therefore, knowledge not only includes belief, but truth as well.
Now, what if I said I know it’s raining outside and it turns out that I actually believe it and it’s true? Would you say I have knowledge it’s raining outside? At first glance, you’d probably answer yes. But what if my true belief is the result of a lucky guess? I don’t have any good reason to think it’s raining outside, it’s just pure speculation that happens to be accurate. In that case, it doesn’t seem my true belief rises to the level of knowledge. We wouldn’t equate dumb luck with knowledge. So what’s missing? What would transform my true belief into knowledge? Justification.
Justification is simply the reasons we believe things–it’s the “why” behind the “what.” We may think our beliefs are true, but how can we be sure? We justify those things with reasons and evidence. Justification gives us confidence our true beliefs are not merely guesses, but actual instances of knowledge. The more justification we have for the truthfulness of a particular belief, the greater our confidence will be.
This is why I’m not satisfied if students merely believe true things. Indeed, many students attending our churches today will affirm all kinds of Christian beliefs while in our midst. They believe God exists, they believe Jesus is the Savior of the world, and they believe the Bible is God’s Word. All true. But in a few short years, to our dismay we’ll discover that many have deserted those beliefs. Why? According to the groundbreaking study by sociologist Christian Smith and the National Study of Youth and Religion, student’s “intellectual skepticism and doubt” will overwhelm mere true belief. Students who fell away from their faith reported, “It didn’t make any sense anymore,” and there were “too many questions that can’t be answered.” Students often abandon belief because they have no good reason to continue holding them.
And that’s why I’m not satisfied if students know what they believe. They must also know why they believe. We must arm them with good reasons to think that what they believe is actually true, transforming mere true belief into confident knowledge.
Not only will this knowledge prepare them for the secular skepticism of the culture, it will play a key role in their spiritual transformation. Unlike much of what is offered by contemporary writers on spiritual formation, the Bible paints a picture where knowledge is absolutely central to our spiritual transformation. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). Dallas Willard summarizes our discussion and its implications:
“Knowledge has a unique and irreplaceable function in human life. Unlike any other human capacity, it authorizes individuals to act, to direct, and to teach, and the lack thereof disqualifies one in those same respects…Knowledge therefore lays the foundation for confident and successful dealings with reality and, as such, is one of the most precious things one can acquire. People ‘perish for lack of knowledge,’ as the Bible tells us, precisely because, without it, disastrous encounters, or lack of encounters, with reality are certainly to occur; most importantly, they occur with reference to God, God’s Kingdom, and any possibilities for an eternal kind of living” (in Willard’s foreword to the book, The Kingdom Triangle, by J.P. Moreland).
If we want to give our young people a “foundation for confident and successful dealings with reality,” we must see apologetics as necessary, not optional. Apologetics offers students the “why” they so desperately need and ask for.
I heard a man I respect (religious, but not Christian) object to the Christian idea that a person can only get to heaven “through Christianity,” his response being that “God cares more about behavior than theology.” That is, the Christian idea (or rather, what he understands to be the Christian idea) that it’s belief in Jesus that makes a person heaven-worthy doesn’t make sense to him. God is clearly concerned about moral categories—good and evil. Therefore, he says, it doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you’re a good person.
But this man has misunderstood Christianity. The difference between us is not that Christians think God doesn’t care about behavior, the difference is that Christians think God cares a great deal more about behavior than this man thinks God cares.
This man thinks his behavior passes God’s standard for heaven-worthy behavior, but Christians think the standard is much higher—that the standard is perfect, in fact, and that God’s holiness would rightly destroy any of us who tried to stand before Him based on our behavior. In other words, God cares so much about behavior that we all face His righteous and perfect condemnation.
Is this too high a standard? Does this make God unreasonable? No, this makes God perfectly just. This man wants God to care about moral categories. The bad news for Him is that He does. Perfectly and completely. There’s no grading on a curve, there’s no compromising justice.
This puts us in a very bad position. When Isaiah—a very prophet of God who wrote part of the Bible, no less—came face to face with God, He realized what a bad position he was in, crying out, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts" (Isaiah 6:5).
From the murderer who considers himself a good person (as I read in a blog post by a murderer in prison once) to this man who wants God to care about behavior, we all fool ourselves into thinking we’re good by comparing ourselves to the sinful people around us. We can all pass the test if we just lower the standard. But as with Isaiah, when we finally see Perfection, we will see ourselves as we really are and despair.
So Christianity takes behavior quite seriously. Nothing in Christianity would make sense without that. The reason Christians think we need to trust in Jesus and be joined to Him in order to be heaven-worthy is that we need Him to stand before God in our place precisely because His behavior was perfect and His sacrifice on the cross fulfilled the justice we deserved on our behalf. In this way only can we stand—not because God will lower His standard for us, but because He upheld His perfect righteousness and justice through Jesus.
The alternative is to say that God doesn’t perfectly care about behavior or justice—that He’s willing to accept a certain level of sin. That is not a good alternative for a perfect God.
I recently had the opportunity to teach three classes at a local Christian High School. I was asked to come in and talk about the pro-life / pro-choice debate in our country, so I began by reading Mary Elizabeth Williams’ recent article for Salon.com entitled, “So What If Abortion Ends Life?” The article was a wake-up call for most of these students, even though they had been well prepared as Christian Case Makers. Over the past several weeks, their instructor, none other than Sean McDowell, had been effectively preparing them to make a case for the pro-life position. They were more than adequately prepared to argue that life begins at conception, and they were well versed in the SLED strategy popularized by Scott Klusendorf of the Life Training Institute. But after reading Williams’ article, it was clear that the battleground on the abortion issue is beginning to shift, and this shift is going to cause us to rethink our approach to the debate.
Williams accepts (and even argues) that life begins at conception, yet she is still pro-choice. In fact, she makes the following statements:
“I know that throughout my own pregnancies, I never wavered for a moment in the belief that I was carrying a human life inside of me. I believe that’s what a fetus is: a human life. And that doesn’t make me one iota less solidly pro-choice.”
“Here’s the complicated reality in which we live: All life is not equal.”
“I can say anecdotally that I’m a mom who loved the lives she incubated from the moment she peed on those sticks, and is also now well over 40 and in an experimental drug trial. If by some random fluke I learned today I was pregnant, you bet your ass I’d have an abortion. I’d have the World’s Greatest Abortion.”
“I would put the life of a mother over the life of a fetus every single time — even if I still need to acknowledge my conviction that the fetus is indeed a life. A life worth sacrificing.”
I may be wrong, but I believe that Williams is articulating the new and growing pro-choice position. She seems to acknowledge that the pro-life arguments (like the strategy embodied in the SLED paradigm) are effective and reasonable. In fact, she articulates the SLED model as though she was a pro-life advocate! But she argues that some lives are simply worth sacrificing. She’s right, and unless we help her understand which lives can be justifiably sacrificed, we won’t have a voice in this debate. The battle ground may shift for the next generation from arguing that life begins at conception to articulating the nature of justifiable homicide.
As Christians, we believe that murder is wrong (Exodus 20:13); but the Bible clearly distinguishes between murder and killing. The scriptures teach us that an accidental killing is not murder (see Exodus 21:12-13 and Numbers 35:22-25) and they also provide for important exceptions related to justifiable killings. A killing performed in self-defense, for example, is not considered to be a murder (see Exodus 22:2). In addition, a killing performed in an attempt to save the life of an innocent person is not murder (see Exodus 2:11-12 and Genesis 14:14-16). These two exceptions, a killing performed to protect one’s own life and a killing performed to protect the life of an innocent, are not merely Biblical exceptions; they are accepted as exceptions by the non-believing culture as well. In California, penal code sections 187, 196 and 197 affirm justifiable killing in these two situations. Every state in the Union has laws such as these; yes there are times when a life must be sacrificed, but we need to help people like Mary Elizabeth Williams understand when the situation is appropriate.
Williams would have us lower the bar on justifiable homicide significantly. Read her comments carefully:
“A fetus can be a human life without having the same rights as the woman in whose body it resides. She’s the boss. Her life and what is right for her circumstances and her health should automatically trump the rights of the non-autonomous entity inside of her. Always.”
As a law-abiding American and a Christian, I agree that there are times when we are justified in taking the life of a human (even a fetal human); but only when that life threatens the life of an innocent person (like the mother whose life is at risk if she continues the pregnancy). Although this is a tragically sad circumstance, we do have legal and Biblical justification. But Williams and others like her want more than this; they want to be able to take human life when the only thing threatened is the “circumstance” of the mother. In other words, pro-choice advocates want homicides to be justified over nothing more than matters of convenience. 87-92% of the abortions performed in America are simply a matter of social, economic or emotional expediency:
“I’m not ready for a baby. The timing is wrong for me.”
“I can’t afford a baby now.”
“I already have finished having the children I planned on having. I have other people depending on me; my children are grown.”
“I don’t want to be a single mother. I am having relationship problems.”
“I don’t feel mature enough to raise a child. I feel too young.”
“This child would interfere with my education or career plans.”
“My husband (or partner) wants me to have an abortion.”
“My parents want me to have an abortion.”
“I don’t want people to know I had sex or got pregnant.”
These are the real reasons women take the lives of fetal humans, according to their own explanations at the time of their abortions. Only 4% of women who have abortions offer that some physical problem with their health is motivating them; none are required to present a doctor’s diagnosis and some choose this category because they are simply experiencing morning sickness.
I admire the clarity of Williams’ thinking related to the humanity of fetal humans. Now it’s time for her to think clearly about what justifies the homicides of these same humans. Surely the justifications cannot be anything less than what we already accept for justifiable homicide in this country. I’m simply in favor of enforcing the law as it stands in this matter, and I hope others recognize the wisdom of these homicide statutes as well. The discussion of what justifies a killing may be the future battleground of the abortion debate.
Here's a challenge from Infidels.org:
Can God know what it is like to learn? If God is omniscient (all-knowing), then it seems that he would have to know what it is like to learn. However, in order to know what it is like to learn, one must have learned something, which involves moving from a state of not-knowing to a state of knowing. This entails that at one time we were in a state of not-knowing a thing that was learned, then experienced what it is like to learn. But if God is essentially omniscient, he always is and has been omniscient, so was never in a state of not-knowing. Because being in a state of not-knowing is necessary to know what it is like to learn, we would seem to have to say that God does not know what it is like to learn. But this contradicts the original claim that he does know this based on his omniscience. Thus, it seems that God's omniscience generates a contradiction. Consequently an omniscient God cannot exist.
What do you say? Does the idea of an omniscient God create an unresolvable contradiction? Tell us how you would answer this challenge in the comments below, and then on Thursday Brett will post his video answer.
[View Brett's video response.]