Is it Just For God to Command That We Love Him?

As Jesus affirms, the most important command we have from God is that we should love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  If we are commanded by Him to do so, and held accountable for not doing so, how is loving Him a virtuous act of free will?  Is God a petty tyrant to command that we love Him and punishing us for not doing so?  I’d like to first clarify the nature of God’s commands, then address why this command is particularly sensible.

God, by nature, represents the true, just, good, and beautiful.  He does not arbitrarily command things for His own idle amusement, as though He might have preferred war over peace or adultery over fidelity.  What He commands is according to His very nature, and since the universe and everything in it was made by God, then His nature is reflected within it — within us — and it is made to operate best according to that nature.  You might just as well wonder why a father tells his son he should change the oil in the car he regularly borrows.  He should do it both because of his father’s position of authority, but also because it is in his best long-term interest.

So, it is correct to say that what God commands is true and good, but also that He commands it precisely because it is true and good.  Indeed, there is a very real sense in which anything that is true and good is commanded by God, and the very act of commanding it is His means of educating us about both these things and about Himself.  Truth and righteousness are inseparable from God and what He decrees.

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The What and Why of Apologetics

What is Apologetics?

The word “apologetics” comes from the Greek word apologia, pronounced, “ap-ol-og-ee’-ah.”  It is used numerous times in the New Testament, but the verse most commonly cited, and most relevant to the enterprise of apologetics, is 1 Peter 3:15.

Always be ready to give a defense [apologia] to anyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.

The verb form of this word, apologeomai, means: to make a defense.  Here we are speaking particularly about a defense of the Christian faith, though the word can and does apply in other contexts.  The evangelist is one who is in the business of advancing the message of Christianity.  The Christian apologist is one who is in the business of defending its claim to truth.

Anyone who has tried to share the gospel has certainly met with resistance.  This may include such questions as, “How can I trust that the Bible is not corrupted?” or “How do I know your religion is the right one?” or “Why would God provide just a single narrow path?”  Perhaps the resistance may take a more passive form (especially so in modern times) with statements such as, “That’s just your truth” or “I’m glad you found something that works for you.”  Scripture indicates that we should be ready with an answer when we meet these inevitable challenges lest our message fall on deaf ears.

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Santa Claus Morality

“I think [heaven is] a bad concept to have because then everything you do, you want to do good things in order to get to Heaven. Then everything becomes a selfish act, and I hate that, it creates bad patterns in your mind. I like doing things not as a means to get into Heaven but for the sake of doing it themselves.” — Natalie Portman, actress

“The threat of damnation is designed to be an incentive to right action; but this is a phony morality. Humanists think we should do good for goodness’ sake, not for the selfish prospect of reaping individual rewards or avoiding punishment.” — Dan Barker, atheist and former pastor

“I believe in goodness for goodness’ sake, not because you’re getting some reward in the afterlife. If you’re being good for an award, then what sort of person are you anyway?” — Bill Maher, political satirist

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This common objection is meant to be a defeater for the concept of Christian morality, but it really does nothing so much as to demonstrate a deep intuitive knowledge about morality. Claiming that we ought to “be good for goodness’ sake” assumes four very important things about the nature of morality.

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Evolution and the Arts

Alfred Russel Wallace was the co-discoverer of natural selection with Darwin, and had even more field experience than him. Popular history has forgotten him because it prefers tidy discovery narratives, but perhaps even more so because Wallace eventually departed from the “scientific” characterization of evolution that our textbooks present. By “scientific,” I mean an unguided, purely natural process of change and selection — no divine foot in the door. Wallace concluded that there were limits to the power of evolution, and he also observed many gratuitously wonderful things in nature, and the human mind, that could not be adequately explained as having any advantage for evolution to prefer.

Here is one such observation from Wallace, which expresses something I’ve always found to be a source of great irony, as I’ll unpack below:

“In what sense does the ability to reason abstractly, perform mathematics, play music, create art, or any of a number of uniquely human abilities and propensities afford a survival advantage in nature?”

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Secular Humanism and the Meaning of Life

The other day, my internet travels brought me to an article on an Australian Humanist Society website. It is an attempt to answer the charge that a secular worldview offers no place for meaning in life. The following 5 points, from the philosopher Richard Norman, were offered as features of the human experience which can give life meaning.

  • Satisfaction of creative achievement
  • Excitement of discovery
  • Relationships with others
  • Life of the emotions
  • Enjoyment of beauty in art and nature

I offered the following comment on this article.

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Between Consenting Adults

[This article originally appeared on the old Lifeway.com/Apologetics site in 2005]

Over the past month or so I’ve happened to stumble across an interesting collection of news stories.  They are interesting both because of their remarkable nature and because they have a common theme.  That theme concerns the legal and moral mischief “consenting adults” can manage to get themselves into.  I’d like to explore this in relation to those who are most vocal in their use of the language of “consent.”

“What consenting adults do in private is no one else’s business”

I hear this defense used relentlessly to justify homosexuality, as though it is some kind of a slam-dunk moral qualifier for personal behavior.  It has a certain surface-level force to it, but it suggests a rather broader application than I am sure is intended.  If “gay rights” activists want us to take this defense seriously, and not just as a verbal shrug to opposition, then an examination of this claim ought to hold up to scrutiny.

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Empowered Women and Sexual Provocation

I saw a post on Facebook attempting to respond to the idea that women’s choice in clothing bears any responsibility for the unwanted attention they get from men. I think it uses a perfect analogy for the situation, though it doesn’t do the work that is intended. It contained a picture of a dog laying apathetically next to a plate of food, with the following narration.

“This is my Euro import working-bred Doberman taking a nap next to my chicken nachos on my bed while I attend Zoom church. You can see how conflicted she is about the proximity of temptation or the threat of punishment, which is to say, she’s not. She has never been hit for reaching for my food. I just trained her, using positive reinforcement, that it is not available to her. It’s simply not an issue. She’s not even tempted. Do not ever attempt to tell me that a woman in shorts/tank top/bikini/whatever is to a man like food is to a dog and they just cannot help themselves, because I will tell you emphatically just how poorly trained that man is and how he is so very inferior to all of my dogs, current and past, and an insult to dogs everywhere. It’s not ever what she was wearing.”

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The Culture of Consent

I suffered the great indignity of being saturated in network daytime TV the other day. There were storms rolling through my area and I needed to keep tabs on the periodic tornado warnings while I worked. My random survey of this modern cultural diet consisted of some of the following.

A group of women with no intellectual credentials beyond their diversity, commenting on the issues of the day through the unchallenged lens of current moral fashions. The interview of a gay rock star who made it clear that his goal in life is to inspire youth to question all authority and conventions and to pursue the inclinations of their own irreproachable hearts. A show with a couple of medical and psychiatric experts reasonably dissecting various pathological issues, who then discard all discernment and critical analysis when a medium entered the room.

There was one thing, however, that was the saddest of all to watch, and was compounded by society’s moral confusion over the nature and authority of “consent.”

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Who Made God?

who-made-god_fb_6486131As a young boy, this is the first of many philosophical questions I remember asking my unfortunate mother.  It is a natural question, given that everything in our experience has a cause and comes from something prior to itself.  So, why not God?  It is not just a question raised by metaphysically precocious youths, it was one of the most prominent objections offered by famed atheist Bertrand Russell (1872-1970){1}, and more recently Michael Shermer, of Skeptic magazine, raised this very challenge in public debate with Christian philosopher Doug Geivett{2}.

The answer to this question turns out to be fairly simple, though it requires some groundwork to first be laid.  Shermer would like to call the following answer “philosophical mumbo-jumbo,” but I will leave it to the reader to decide.

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Response to a Skeptic: On Christian Diversity and the Scriptures

maxresdefaultI have debated with an agnostic acquaintance on Facebook for several years now.  We mostly cross paths on topics like economics and social justice.  While these are interesting discussions, I don’t have much hope of influencing his thinking because we do not share the same worldview.  For this reason, I often try to distill ideas down to their underlying presuppositions.  The ultimate presupposition is the very grounding for one’s morality, but he avoids that like the plague and begs off of it with the excuse that he’s “not a philosopher.”  I do, however, manage to get him to discuss Christianity on occasion.   Most recently, it was as a byproduct of a debate over what constituted true Marxism.  Below, I’ll start by sharing his final comment to me and then I’ll include my response to it.

The Old Testament is made up of many sections that were handed down as oral traditions for, what, centuries? Probably? And the New Testament was written years after Jesus’ death, if I remember my facts correctly.  So I don’t know how we escape subjective interpretation and opinion when we consider the beginnings of these movements. Hence the many branches/different schools of thought.

Part of my skepticism about Christianity is that I met so many Christians back when I was a believer, who all were convinced that they knew, thru superior scholarship or the Holy Spirit/revelation, the best interpretation of the Bible. And they all had slightly or more-than-slightly different beliefs. I did ask God about who was right. He didn’t seem all that concerned. Or at least, He never gave me a firm answer.

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The Compleat Apologist

paul_areopagusWithout a doubt, the most common verse sited in support of apologetics is 1st Peter 3:15.  This certainly makes it clear that we are to be ready with justification for our beliefs, but it says so much more that is often overlooked in the fervor to make this point.  Let’s start by taking a look at the entire passage.

“but set apart the Messiah as Lord in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you. However, do this with gentleness and respect, keeping your conscience clear, so that when you are accused, those who denounce your Christian life will be put to shame.”

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“Does God Exist?”: Answering Steve Martin

0be76af8390693bb7d989245671f35c4Steve Martin once wrote a very short essay called “Does God Exist?” for The New Yorker magazine (which can be found here).  Below is an old critique of that essay that I recently found in my archives.


Steve Martin’s essay has got to be the most insipidly postmodern thing that I have ever read.

Does God exist? This ancient question just won’t go away. Since human history began, as soon as someone thought he had the answer, someone else came along to challenge it.

With a flick of his satirical wrist, Steve brushes aside any possibility that God has taken the trouble to answer this question Himself. He doesn’t enter the debate over this question; he dismisses it.

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