February is celebrated as Black History Month in the United States. It is an opportunity to recognize and celebrate the many incredible contributions of Black Americans throughout the history of the United States. Unfortunately, opponents of Christianity may sometimes use any discussion concerning race to try to attack God through our country’s dark history in slavery. It’s not uncommon for Christians of all backgrounds to be confused and cautious about how to engage if this happens. What should we say? What should we do? Here are a few tips:

1. Acknowledge the atrocity
  • There is no question that many people in our past, even Christians, did not behave in conjunction with the clear principles and commands of the Bible. The contradiction between “all men are created equal” and the countless laws that treated black people differently because of their race should have caused a cognitive dissonance in our predecessors. We must always admit the truth, and call out sin wherever we find it.
2. Give your support wisely
  • Many organizations claim to protect and help people, but a cursory look can reveal a philosophy that is in direct opposition to the Bible. In a time of instant access to information, all Christians have the responsibility to research the organizations they support, and to keenly discern which movements betray a worldview that may actually harm the people they are professing to protect.
3. Understand that slavery is STILL HAPPENING TODAY
  • We are right to be outraged by the existence and propagation of race-based slavery in the early arrangement of our country. The consequences of this hateful trauma carry forward as stresses for many even today and contributed to some of the impetus of the race riots of last summer. There is so much more to be said here. And the fact that there is still widespread slavery across the world right now in the form of forced labor and sex trafficking (often with race-based justification) gives us many opportunities to link arms with our allies and fight the most tangible forms of this evil TODAY in a very direct way.
The main obstacle for people to hear and receive the saving power of the gospel of Jesus Christ is sin. But a misperception that Christians do not care about protecting the innocent, like those caught in the terrible scourge of slavery, can also contribute. We need to show the truth about what the Bible teaches. You can be part of the solution, even if you think you were never part of the problem. Here are three simple suggestions:

1. Commit yourself to thinking clearly and consistently
  • Listen to what others are saying and help them engage by offering a biblical worldview that makes the crazy and confusing world around us make sense.
2. Give God the glory
  • Help people see that their compassion for others and desire for justice come from a biblical worldview. These are attributes that God Himself has placed in every human heart as a reflection of His love for all people.
3. Walk the talk
  • Make sure your daily life is marked by a commitment to Christ and be open to feedback when others may perceive that your “walk” doesn’t match your “talk”.
The Ambassadors Forum exists to create vibrant communities where the real issues of the day, issues like slavery and identity and LGBTQ, can be openly discussed, challenged, and explored. Please join us for one of our engaging monthly forums where we have excellent speakers presenting on relevant topics, with lots of open Q&A at the end:
  • Feb. 19 – “What Does It Mean To Be Made In The Image Of God?” by Derry Tseng
  • Mar. 19 – “I Never Saw You That Way” by KathyGrace Duncan
  • Apr. 16 – “Accurate History as a Christian Apologetic” by Caleb Hilbert

Hard Question Corner

"Why does God approve of slavery in the Bible?"

This is a very common question since race is a very prominent topic in our culture today.
The short answer is that He doesn’t. Especially not in the way that the term “slavery” is typically used today to refer to the horrendous practice of race-based oppression in the U.S that stole hundreds of thousands of Africans from the 16th through 19th centuries. The principle way in which those native peoples were enslaved was through kidnapping from their homelands. The Bible has a very specific command for that situation:

Exodus 21:16 – Kidnappers must be put to death, whether they are caught in possession of their victims or have already sold them as slaves.

It is obvious that God never approved of this terrible mistreatment of people created in His image. In fact, if the world had simply enforced this one biblical command there never would have been a slave trade.

And what about the dozens of times that the Bible uses the word “slave” or defines some civil ordinance about “slavery”? It is helpful to remember that most of the time when the Bible mentions “slave” it is speaking about a voluntary kind of bondage that we today might call “indentured servitude” (it is not racial and it does not involve kidnapping the innocent). Here are a few examples:

Leviticus 25:39 – Suppose some of your people become so poor that they have to sell themselves and become your slaves.

To be sure, there are verses in the Bible that speak about the administration of slavery, even if people entered into this institution voluntarily (since kidnapping carried the death penalty). Perhaps the most difficult verses in the Bible regarding slavery, for us to understand today, occur in the book of Leviticus:

Leviticus 25:44-46 – As for your male and female slaves whom you may have: you may buy male and female slaves from among the nations that are around you… they may be your property, you may also pass them on as an inheritance to your sons after you as a possession forever.

It is helpful to remember that ancient Israel existed in a world where slavery was as ubiquitous as marriage and commerce. It existed everywhere, and everyone simply accepted it as a normal way of life. Every civilization in all of history has had slavery. God made allowances in the law regarding some wicked things because He knew our hearts would be so hard and stubborn, not because he condoned these abhorrent behaviors. An example of this concept is when Jesus himself explained why God allowed for there to be divorce, even though that was never His will:

Matthew 19:8 – Jesus replied, "Moses permitted divorce only as a concession to your hard hearts, but it was not what God had originally intended."

It may be helpful to try to imagine a society where God’s laws WERE followed. As an example, if both the letter and spirit of only the ten commandments were obeyed by all people there would be almost no injustice in our society. But God knows that because of our sinfulness that people WILL NOT follow His laws, even just the ten commandments. So He gave another set of laws to help constrain wickedness in the face of our disobedience. But we must not mistake God’s pragmatism as an endorsement of the evil of our sin. God did not try to make things perfect through the law, the ultimate resolution of sin comes only through Jesus Christ.

Linguistic Theft Corner

An ancient Roman once asked, “What is Truth?” He would be right at home in our present time. Today, it is common to hear people talk about truth as if it were something private or personal.
“True for you, but not for me,” is another common expression of the same idea. This kind of truth is self-referential. My wife would say that the best kind of cake is Angel Food cake. That is her truth. But it is not my truth: It is self-evidently true that the best cake is German Chocolate cake. 😊

The word “truth” is another term that has been hijacked and redefined in our day. The new definition of truth is really about personal preferences or experiences. It cannot bear the weight that many would like to place on it. There must be truth which is not self-referential, truth that is true for both you and for me, that is based outside of our personal preferences or experience. This external truth is necessary for us to live in peace in society. It is necessary for true justice. It is necessary for human flourishing.

Let’s consider a couple of examples, one from history and one from science.

In the 1930s, as Germany pursued re-armament and annexed Austria and Czechoslovakia, Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister, negotiated with Adolf Hitler in an effort to avoid war. In 1938, he returned to Britain with a signed agreement, famously proclaiming “Peace for our Time.” War had been averted. That was his truth, and the truth of the British establishment. Winston Churchill’s truth was the direct opposite, calling the agreement, “A total and unmitigated defeat,” in a speech before Parliament. Both these “truths” could not be true. We now understand that Churchill was right and that Hitler could’ve been stopped much earlier and at a much lower cost, if England and France had been willing to accept the real truth of Hitler’s ambitions. The failure to discern the real truth and act accordingly cost millions of lives and billions of dollars. Objective Truth matters.

Science is rooted in and depends upon there being objective and unchanging truth about the nature of the physical world. The physical world does not care about our personal experiences or preferences. When we get on an airplane, we expect that the engineers who designed it did so on the basis of the objective truth of the unchangeable laws of nature. It is designed and tested assuming that the truth of natural laws will be the same tomorrow when we put the plane into service as it was today when we tested it, irrespective of the personal preferences of the engineers.

Truth corresponds to reality or it is NOT true. The unchangeable truths of the laws of physics give evidence for the Truth of an unchanging Creator, the One who claimed to be The Truth, the One who defines true justice, and who entered our world at a point in history as the expression of God’s mercy to save us from the true judgment of a Holy God.

Personal Application Corner

Never tear down a fence.
Never tear down a fence until you know why it was built. This little nugget is from a rancher who tore down a fence and then frantically tried to find his runaway horse. He quickly learned the importance of “historical research”! Well-meaning people sometimes tear down the Bible, not realizing that it can be a hedge to guard their heart and illuminate their mind.

When we study history and the Bible we will see the same realities, like humanity’s sinfulness. It shows us that the Bible's description of reality has always been accurate. Studying history also helps us see life's biggest questions from the proper perspective. We can easily forget that people in the past were people. Past Christians struggled with the same big life questions, and we need to believe they did their best to live out their faith as best they could. Sometimes they did a good job, and sometimes they didn’t, just like us today. We need to be careful about judging people of the past with the knowledge and context of today. Knowing the WHAT of an event (who, where, when, etc.) is often a matter of simple diligence in your research. But the WHY is always a matter of worldview. Sometimes false intentions can be assigned to historical figures that cannot be supported by the facts. Lastly, when we take an objective approach to studying history, we will always see incredible accounts of God's saving power amidst painful and difficult circumstances.

As Christian apologists our goal is not winning arguments, but displaying God's truth through thoughtful and biblical answers. We should pray for the unbeliever, talk about Jesus, and always tell the truth!

Current Events Corner

A seismic event hit the apologetics world this past year. Ravi Zacharias was the best known and most influential apologist of the 21st Century.
After he died, some of his sexual sins were brought into the light. According to God, we all sin (Rom. 3:23), but Mr. Zacharias’s sins weren’t just personal, they were scandalous. He had victims. Not only did he harm women, he plotted and schemed to hide his sins and he did this over an extended period of time. What Ravi did was evil, malicious and deliberate.

What do we when a hero who tells the world how God can change your life, turns out to do evil and wicked things? How do we tell non-Christians in 2021 that the guy we told them to listen to back in 2019 engaged in criminal depravity?

First, be honest. Admit what he did. If Mr. Zacharias had admitted his sins earlier fewer people would be hurt and the ministry he left behind wouldn’t be apologizing to and restoring his victims. Second, if somebody asks why they should in a God whose followers act unjustly like Ravi Zacharias did, give them credit for believing in objective morality and even more credit for believing in moral justice. Explain how these concepts reflect a holy God. Universal morality and justice can’t be explained by a godless universe, they can only be accounted for if there is a universal lawgiver and a just judge governing the behavior of all people. Third, pray that his victims would be made as whole as possible by the other Christians still working at Ravi Zacharias’s Ministry. Sin doesn’t have to end at sin. The harm that sin starts, if followed by honesty and repentance and forgiveness, can end in reconciliation and love.

2 Corinthians 5:18-21 – And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

Legal Corner

What should churches and people of faith be watching for and responding to in the coming days?

60 days have passed since my Legal Corner about coming attractions from the Biden Administration, and it appears I am at low risk to be stoned as a false prophet.
President Biden has issued 28 executive orders, including one advancing more far-reaching protections for sexual orientation and gender identity, likely at the future expense of churches, Christian businesses and people of faith at work and school. The Hyde Amendment prohibiting federal funding for abortion, which President Biden defended for decades in the U.S. Senate, is now on the chopping block, and the United States plans to repudiate the Mexico City Agreement discouraging abortion in developing countries.

On February 5, 2021 a divided U.S. Supreme Court issued emergency orders in California and Nevada cases saying restrictions on church attendance could not be more onerous than those of other public gathering spaces; however, the Nine Wise Souls left mask requirements and other COVID restrictions in place for now. Even when going back to church in person is possible, many still prefer enjoying church online from their living room, and some are fearful of groups of any kind. Others are content to lament that things are not “normal.” The Church is not in “unprecedented times” because the Christian faith has been unpopular and repressed before, complacency is not a new phenomenon, fear remains, and our human nature still tempts us to choose the easy path.

As Francis Schaeffer famously asked, “How shall we then live?” In unsettled times, opportunities abound for reaching those whose faith in a world without God has been shaken to the core. Now is not the time for pastors and others to shrink from speaking truth, including truth to powers trying to muzzle the Gospel. Faithful giving is important when many churches and ministries are trying to minister more with less because some can’t give as much, while others just don’t because they perceive they are getting “less” in return online or are consumed with fear of what might lie ahead.

As people called to give an account for the hope that is in us, we should be ever more committed to supporting and encouraging church and ministry leaders. We should be resolutely standing behind legal advocacy organizations already experienced at protecting against government overreach. Now is the time to exercise our faith muscles more, not less.
Disclaimer: The above column should not be regarded or relied upon as legal advice. The reader should consult legal counsel for specific guidance in particular circumstances.

Evidence for the Resurrection

Minimal Facts

In last month’s newsletter, we alluded to Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15… “If Christ is not raised, your faith is dead, you are still in your sins.”
In other words, the resurrection is one of the most compelling physical evidences of Christianity, especially for the new breed of skeptics that operate strictly according to a materialistic worldview.

Gary Habermas is a Distinguished Research Professor of Apologetics and Philosophy at Liberty University. Having spent his 45+ year career studying the resurrection, one of Gary’s major achievements is the development of his Minimal Facts, which support the truth of the resurrection.

What are Minimal Facts?

Minimal Facts are those determinations and conclusions which are supported by strong historical evidence, and are accepted and agreed upon by a majority of scholars, including some of the most skeptical among them. Minimal facts are based only on content and data that are strongly evidenced and considered historical by virtually all who study the subject.

The available body of evidence, both Biblical and extra-Biblical, makes these facts very difficult to refute. As such, they are valuable tools that can help us anchor a discussion to a point of consensus, thereby creating a useful starting point for interaction. There are more minimal facts for the resurrection than are covered here, but for the purposes of this discussion, we will limit ourselves to the five used by Gary Habermas in his discussions and debates.

Fact 1: Jesus died by crucifixion.
Fact 2: Jesus’ disciples believed that He rose and appeared to them.
Fact 3: Paul, the church persecutor, was suddenly changed.
Fact 4: Jesus’ brother James, a known skeptic suddenly changed.
Fact 5: The tomb was empty.

It may come as a surprise that a majority of scholars, even those who are hostile to Christianity, would affirm these facts. For instance, you may have thought the notion of Jesus’ crucifixion was only covered in the Bible. On the contrary, we will demonstrate that there are reputable extra-Biblical sources, both friendly and hostile, that attest to Jesus’ existence and crucifixion.

In following issues, we will deal with each of the five minimal facts and show how they can be effective in discussions about the resurrection.

Recall from last month’s edition that many scholars reject the resurrection because they refuse to accept that there is a God or that He can do miracles, or both. Many of these scholars have attempted to explain away the resurrection with opposing theories, but we will find from this series of articles that the resurrection is the only plausible explanation that satisfies these widely accepted historical facts.

As Christians, we can never really concede to a materialistic worldview since that is not what the Bible teaches as reality. But we can temporarily constrain ourselves to a secular philosophy in order to show even the most radical skeptics that the truths of the Bible are the most reasonable and logical viewpoint that exists, and is worthy of consideration.

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