Sunday, May 23, 2010

"Who's Waiting For Your Kids?"

Brett Kunkle, from Stand to Reason, has a great video out on The video is for parents of kids nearing college age and challenges them to find out what messages and environment the college milieu will impose on their kids. My advice: even if you don't have kids who are about to leave for college yet, please watch the video to find out what they'll see when they get there.

(Apologies for not being able to embed the video. Just click the link below.)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Nicole Queen vs. Nabeel Qureshi

Please watch both stories in their entirety.


I watched quite a few video testimonies of conversions to either Christianity or Islam. I selected these two people because they related the most thoughtfulness in their stories. Observations:

1) Nicole Queen's decision to become a Muslim came from a desire to find meaning and dignity in life and leave a lifestyle that she found shallow and unfulfilling. As sincere as I believe Ms. Queen is about her belief in Allah, she never talked about how she resolved in her mind the problematic aspects about Islam, such as the mandate to fight and kill Jews and Christians, not to make friends with Jews and Christians, to kill people who leave Islam, to support Sharia, and so forth. I'd also like to know more of her thoughts about her Baptist upbringing early in life.

It is nice to showcase that Islam has an attractive side to it--of course it has (if it were completely noxious, then no one would believe it). However, Ms. Queen's story of her conversion sounds like many, many other conversion stories that I have heard--conversion to Mormonism, conversion to the Jehovah's Witnesses, conversion to Buddhism. What I found missing was an appeal to objective truth and the search for God's actual character. Ms. Queen has found her moral compass, which is laudable.

2) Nabeel Qureshi is a man that I am so glad to call a brother in Christ. His story is particularly interesting to me, because he had no reason to leave Islam. As a devout Muslim in a devout Muslim family that loved him, and all things being equal, why would he convert to Christianity if all his spiritual cards were lined up correctly? He recounts that initial encounter with truth through his good friend David was when it began. The first nugget of truth that fell into his life was the dispelling of the told and retold myth that the Bible is corrupt. From then on, the myths about Jesus and the Christian faith began to fall, and one day, God revealed Himself in a personal way to Nabeel*.

For me, it is remarkable how it is both easy and difficult it is to wrestle with Christianity, and I have to put myself into other people's shoes, like Nabeel's. Sometimes I think the history just speaks for itself and the truth stares at us plainly. Other times, I see that we need to be led out of the maze of our own making by the divine hand of God. And that is what the Gospel is all about--God forgiving and overcoming the sin in our very nature to bring us to life through Jesus Christ.

A final thought: I wonder how many Christians sitting in church every Sunday (or on Christmas and Easter) could easily be someone like Nicole Queen. Christians are provided with lessons about Jesus' sacrificial love and forgiveness, mercy and spiritual rebirth. We are given Bibles that tell of God's purposes for our lives. We are constantly invited to consider God and see Him for who He is. Yet, many don't even crack open the Bible between church attendances. We cannot remember what was spoken about immediately after leaving the service, and worst of all, we hardly give God a thought in our day-to-day activities. We haven't encountered God at all; He is not in us even though He is around us constantly. No wonder that when certain people reach a level of maturity, they cannot see the presence of God in so-called Christian people. They don't see Him, because He's not there. So they look elsewhere.

*Today, Nabeel and David both operate Acts 17 Apologetics, a Christian ministry with a special focus on Islam.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Theology and Apologetics Q&A (1)

These are questions asked by my fellow churchgoers. For reasons of length, they are answered here so I can elaborate if I need to.

Q1: The whole Bible is the basis of my faith and I know if one word is not inspired then the whole thing collapses. The biggest barrier I run into in my outreach is the tripwire the old chestnut of the book being written by man and therefore suspect...Bottom line, give me the elevator speech that knocks down that argument about the Bible being written by men. Thanks.

If, by "argument," you mean the view that since the Bible was written with human hands it couldn't also be inspired by God, then I would ask "why not both?" What people are really questioning is whether the Bible can be truly error-free if it were produced by human hands. If there is a God who wants to communicate with us through the Bible, then why can't the Bible be error-free? Again, if there is a God who wants to communicate with us, then why does it matter that He chooses to speak through poetry, narratives, and letters written by men vs another method?

Would it make a difference if God struck His word on tablets on a mountaintop instead? (Oh wait, He did) Would it make a difference if monkeys pounding on computer keys produced all the books of the Bible? Would that make things any more miraculous, inspired, or error-free? It wouldn't to me.

In turn, I'd like to ask if such an argument is made by people, namely men (?). Of course it is. So, if I were to adopt a similar line of reasoning, shouldn't I be able to question whether that is a good argument simply because it was made by a man? Well no, of course not. It just goes to show that this attitude dismisses the veracity of the Bible based on its origins in what's called the genetic fallacy. Other than being guilty of extreme prejudice, this argument carries little weight.

Q2: Why is God so angry in the OT, to the point of killing people on the spot? Why did he stop that behavior in the N. T. ? hum, does that mean GOD changed his tactic with us?

This is a good question that people often ask.

Your question makes it sound like God reacts out of His anger to kill people unjustly. Is this what you mean? If so, God wouldn't be loving or just if He did that. People are created beings; on top of that we are sinners. Our lives are always at His mercy, and if/when He determines that our earthly lives should end, we have no reason to accuse Him of being wrong or unfair.

God may appear to behave differently between the OT and NTs, but I think this is only due to what we perceive as more tolerance on His part. God can and has claimed life in immediate punishment for sin past the OT. Ananias and Saphira in Acts 5 are the examples that come to mind. But you could be right that God has actually changed His behavior toward those in post-NT times. If He has, I'm thankful for His great mercies.

Q3: Did Jesus give a chance to the people of the Old Testament that never heard the Word of God?

Romans 4 talks about Abraham and David believing God and God treating them as righteous long before Jesus walked the earth. Theologians have pointed out that Jesus' blood retroactively covers their sin even as it proactively covers ours today. For those people in the OT who were not a part of the Hebrews or Israel, their witness was the nation of Israel itself. There were many who became part of the Hebrew community all throughout the OT who learned of the God of Israel (i.e. Egyptians escaping w/ Hebrews in the Exodus, the Moabites).

Q4: Why are we saved by grace through faith? Why not grace through love, or forgiving others? Is it because we’d earn salvation that way, in a sense?

Think about it this way: it is not so much the "earning" aspect that plays a role in this question. Being sinful people by nature, we cannot love well enough or forgive others with pure enough hearts and minds to qualify being worthy of being in the presence of God. One guilty person loving and forgiving another guilty person doesn't erase the guilt of either party before God.

Second, the whole idea of grace negates trying to earn salvation, because grace is something God freely gives as He wills. If grace is earned, then it wouldn't be grace (Romans 11:5-7). Suppose if salvation could be earned, then some people would have a right to demand it of God based on a level of achievement. Those people would somehow have less sin or be better than the rest of humanity. But, as Scripture reveals, no one has any spiritual advantage. We are all sinners, whether we sin more or less than the next person.

I think I should point out that only Christianity contains God's grace in this way. God is an agent
independent of us who gives grace and instills faith on believers. Many religions require merit that is ultimately not for God but for collecting self-orbiting accolades meant to force God to do something for us. That is very different from the loving relationship that God wants for us that we find in the Bible.

Q5: What happens to people that don’t hear the Word of God? Are they judged based on the difficulties that God has given them, or solely on never hearing his name?

Wow, this is a question that is as old as the Bible itself! Even if I had another two-thousand years, I couldn't give you a complete answer. You won't be alone when you get to meet Jesus in person one day and ask Him directly. :)

Short answer: it depends. Without the Gospel, there is only Law (Romans 10). How an individual responds to the Law of God, which everyone knows in their heart, is how God will judge him/her (Romans 1). The only thing we know about the unknowns is that God is always just, and whatever happens to those people will be the right thing.

Q6: In the end, it says that “every knee shall bow” (Philipians 2:10) and every tongue confess (Philipians 2:12) that Jesus Christ is Lord. Also, it says “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” So, it turns back to belief again with the heart, but what about salvation through confession? If everyone confesses, are they all saved? That is a nice thought, but I think I’ve misunderstood something here.

Yes, there are two senses of the word "confess" here. One can "confess" as in pure acknowledgement of the identity of Jesus Christ; another "confess" is what a believer does to identify his belief and faith in Jesus Christ.

Notice that the first sense in Philippians 2:11 is what everyone will do when Jesus comes again and the world must acknowledge Him for who He is. The second sense in Romans 10:8-10 is communication to God from someone with a believing heart. Per your question, the confession of the believer doesn't grant salvation, but it witnesses to the believer's salvation.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Movie Review: The Cartel

Last Friday, on an impulse, I and my 4-year old rushed out of the house to make the 1pm showing of The Cartel at The Plaza Frontenac (Oohlala).

But I digress; with my toddler's patience clock counting down (as was the number of fries in his lap), and the movie starting 15 minutes late (sans previews, thank goodness!), I was not disappointed in the least. The movie got right down to business as Bob Bowden, the creator of this documentary, reveals to the audience that the New Jersey public education system is about many things, the least of which is actual education.

The public may/may not know that the state of NJ spends an exceedingly high number of dollars per student per classroom, with the average classroom receiving about a sum total of $313,000 (or more) per school year (including teacher salary and overhead). Surprised? So were the NJ residents interviewed on the street, who were asked to guess but named a far lower amount.

So where is the money going if it isn't producing the good results that upwards of six modest incomes combined should produce (if money were the biggest factor)? Bowden follows the moolah everywhere it goes. And not surprisingly, most of it isn't spent in the classroom.

The movie accomplishes several things:
o It dispels the myth that more money equals better schools and better performing students. Most of the money is spent on administrative costs and patronage, a quid pro quo between the teachers union (the NJEA, which is the most powerful lobby in the state) and pretty much everyone on school boards and state and local government. According to the documentary, many friends and family members of teachers, administrators, and school boards obtained their jobs through instances of quid pro quo support of the teachers union's objectives.

(Speaking of administration, the movie does a side-by-side comparison between NJ and neighboring Maryland, both of which have roughly the same number of students in the state. NJ has 616 school districts with all the staff to boot; MD has just 24. You do the math.)

o It reveals that lots of $$$ goes toward exorbitant salaries, severance pay, and pensions; some of them being custodial staff. I said that Bowden followed the money--he did--right into an administrative parking lot where the number of luxury cars might rival that of the dealership where they were purchased.

o It reveals multiple instances of fraud, from teachers using students in order to obtain more money for pet programs to a large construction firm demanding billions on top of billions already paid to construct poorly-built and incomplete school facilities.

o It exposes the NJEA's practice of punishing teachers and administrators for wanting to discipline misbehaving and poor performing teachers. Alongside that practice, the union fosters a mentality that discourages teachers from innovating and benefitting their students if it means that other teachers would look bad by not doing the same.

o It dispels the myths spun by teachers unions that voucher programs are a detriment to public education.

- It dispels the myth that any kind of public voucher program is just a racist Republican scheme to hurt black people and minorities.

- It dispels the myth that private schools and charter schools are unaccountable; those schools are accountable to the parents and to the state, which must approve of the educational objectives set forth in the curricula.

- It dispels the myth that vouchers take resources away from public schools, thereby making public schools worse.

- It dispels the myth that alternative and charter schools favor certain, select students by way of admission.

- It affirms what we've known all along, that competition among schools improves schools, which in turn, benefits the students.

- Finally, it dispels one more myth: that the NJEA is always against vouchers through exposing the double standard that it has toward magnet schools, only because magnet schools are still counted as part of the public education system and the union would still receive funds through those schools. Ch-ching!

The documentary made one important observation about vouchers: change the language, and you change the public's response. If you ask most people if they are in favor of vouchers, many react negatively. However, if you ask if they would favor 'scholarships for everyone' to attend the school of their choice (which is the same thing), the public jumps to support that.

At the end of the movie, Bob Bowden remarks that this is not just about NJ. Indeed, as if corruption exists nowhere except NJ? Everywhere there is a failing school we must pursue the cause and strive to fix it. Our kids depend on us.

The movie had significant personal impact on me. At one point, the viewer joins a room full of anxious parents with their sons and daughters present for the lottery drawing of new enrollees for a charter school. The room is pin-drop silent as the names of children are drawn from a bingo tumbler and read aloud. Tears and muffled elated crying begin to filter from the crowd after each name. Near-silent dancing breaks out as one mother, overcome with joy, dances out to the foyer to praise Jesus that her daughter, in her words, now "has a chance." The joy eventually turns to sorrow as another set of tears begin to flow, this time from the children who must also listen for their names, but only to hear their place on the waiting list. It is not rejection, but it is the awful realization that they must face another year in public school if nothing else comes through for them.

As a mom with a child in a public school, I couldn't help but shed a tear along with these families, for both the 'winners' and the 'losers.' Something primal in myself understands that for something as essential as an education, children should not be trapped in the prisons of bad schools. Parents should have the freedom to use the public funds set aside for their children to seek better schools and better teachers. The state's authority comes in second to parents when it comes to the education of our children, and the teachers union, none at all. Parents in every school district in the country need to wield that authority for the good of their own kids and demand that the state, which holds their money, must relinquish it for the good of the future.

Every concerned parent should see this movie.
Read other reviews of The Cartel.

View the trailer.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Why Nidal Malik Hasan Did Not Murder Anyone

I originally intended to publish a post on the Ft. Hood massacre soon after the news broke about the attack by Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan. In the inital days following, the news media strained to find a possible motive for Hasan's actions. Was he a flaming jihadi or a garden variety crazyman? Now, since the events took place months ago, I've had plenty of time to mull the situation over and grant possibilities and motivations subliminally suggested by the media. I also enlisted the help of a fellow Christian apologist and expert on Islam, David Wood from Answering Muslims, to help me make sense of Hasan's motivations. Questions in bold are followed by his answers in italics. To be fair to the media, I have also included representative media answers in response to Mr. Wood's statements. Thus, this blog entry has both sweet and sour sides to it. I'll let the reader decide which is which.

1. It seems like the American media doesn’t know what to make of this man Hasan except to attribute his actions to a psychosis or a mental breakdown. How legitimate is this treatment of him?

Hasan did exactly what Islam commands him to do, which is why it's absurd to attribute his actions to a mental defect. If Hasan had started running down the highway in a pink dress, barking like a dog and shooting people with paint-ball pellets, we might reasonably question his sanity. But when he proclaims his jihadist views over a period of years, consults Muslim scholars about waging Jihad, purchases weapons, and carries out a brutal attack against carefully selected targets, psychological problems simply aren't the explanation. Islam is the explanation.

Phptht. No, Hasan had to be mentally disturbed. After all, he was about to be shipped to Iraq to fight George Bush’s War. Who wouldn’t go insane? You shouldn’t bring Hasan’s cultural upbringing into this. As an enlightened and tolerant society, we should realize that none of this is really his fault, and he can’t help it if he’s Muslim. I mean, Islam is a religion of peace, right? Right?

2. What are the laws in the Qu’ran prohibiting murder or the killing of innocent people? Tell me about what they mean.

Concerning the murder of innocents, Muslims may appeal to Qur'an 17:33, which says, "And do not kill any one whom Allah has forbidden, except for a just cause, and whoever is slain unjustly, We have indeed given to his heir authority, so let him not exceed the just limits in slaying; surely he is aided." Here a Muslim may rightly claim that the Qur'an condemns the killing of innocents.

The problem is that the Islamic definition of "innocent" is radically different from that of practically everyone else on the planet. According to Islam, non-Muslims aren't innocent. Pagans aren't innocent. Christians and Jews aren't innocent. Consider, for instance, what Qur'an 9:30 says about Jews and Christians: "And the Jews say: Uzair is the son of Allah; and the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah; these are the words of their mouths; they imitate the saying of those who disbelieved before; may Allah destroy them; how they are turned away!"

Christians and Jews are therefore guilty of the worst sin imaginable (associating partners with Allah). It isn't surprising that 9:29 commands Muslims to fight us.

Hence, while it is correct to say that Islam forbids the killing of innocents, we must keep in mind the fact that, according to Islam, the only innocent people are good Muslims.

This has to be an obvious twisting of the Qu’ran. I mean, what about The Crusades?

3. According to this understanding of the Qu’ran, why are American soldiers legitimate targets of killing?

The Qur'an specifically says that the penalty for "making mischief" in Muslim lands or fighting against the Muslim community is death. Qur'an 5:33 reads: "The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His apostle and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned; this shall be as a disgrace for them in this world, and in the hereafter they shall have a grievous chastisement."

The American soldiers targeted by Hasan were about to be deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, to make what Hasan would regard as "mischief in the land." These soldiers were therefore legitimate targets according to Islam.

Well, I have a Muslim neighbor, and that’s not what he believes. And he says he’s very devout. His kids and mine play soccer together.

4. What is the war/jihad that Hasan chose to fight in and what the imam he consulted with endorsed?

According to Hasan, the United States is at war with Islam (due to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq). Thus, any Muslim is justified in waging Jihad against America.

That’s sooo ridiculous. As stated before, Islam is a peaceful religion. The U.S. is at war in Afghanistan and Iraq because George W-stands-for-Warmonger Bush was a warring warmonger. You can’t base what one crazy man says as representative of the whole religion. I’m sure there’s no justification whatsoever in what he believes. He’s crazy, you know.

5. If Hasan’s acts took place in, say, Saudi Arabia, would he be treated as a murderer as he is here in the US?

In the eyes of Muslims who understand Muhammad's teachings, Hasan isn't a murderer at all. He killed enemy combatants, and therefore should be considered a war hero.

Haw-haw. Hasan is a US citizen, and he has Miranda rights and should be tried fairly in federal court. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty!

6. What could be his defense for his actions? Could he argue that he did not really murder anyone at all, since none of the victims were Muslim?

Murder, by definition, is an unjust killing. In Islam, it's lawful to kill enemy combatants. It's also lawful to kill people who are aiding enemy combatants. It's even lawful to kill civilians as collateral damage when targeting enemy combatants. Everyone killed by Hasan fits into these categories, so there was nothing unjust about his killing spree (according to Islam).

See, this shows that Islam is very tolerant and peaceful.

7. The American society seems to be just one of the things disdained by many militant Muslims about the US. Are the features (positive or negative) of American society fundamentally incompatible with Islam or Sharia? Are Islam and Sharia the same?

Islam is the religion, while Sharia is the legal system put in place when the religion becomes dominant in an area. Thus, while there are many Muslims in America, there isn't much Sharia. Sharia is completely incompatible with American society. Freedom of religion is severely limited under Sharia. Freedom of speech is severely limited. The penalties for various offenses in Islam would qualify as "cruel and unusual" in America. Since America is pluralistic, Islam can exist in America. But Islam is monolithic; therefore, America cannot exist under Islamic rule.

America has separation of church and state, therefore, I cannot conceive of any American Muslims who would tolerate Sharia. Only the radical Muslims, whom I refuse to acknowledge exist, would want to impose Sharia. Even if they did exist (which they do not), I’m satisfied with characterizing them as terribly misunderstood and also confident that they will eventually become as relativistic about their beliefs as I believe they should be.

8. Is Sharia the goal of Islam? I mean, there are plenty of Muslims who do not want to live under Sharia. However, does faithfulness to Islam compel them to accept it as the right way of life?

If someone believes that Islam is true, they should believe that Sharia is the greatest system of law (since it's the system that's been commanded by Allah). It is therefore quite strange for a Muslim not to desire Sharia law. Muslims who do not desire Sharia have either been thoroughly Westernized, or they don't know enough about their religion to know that they're supposed to seek the establishment of Sharia.

Well, if you’re going to get all confusing like that, then there is no longer any reason to rebut you.

9. Are Americans naïve to this aspect of Islam? Are Westernized Muslims likewise naïve?

Since Americans are raised to believe that a particular religion shouldn't be forced on people, many Americans just can't grasp the fact that Islam is completely different in this respect. Americans tend to think that all religions support basic rights, such as freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of expression, etc. Indeed, when the facts about Islam are pointed out to people, many become upset because they assume that those presenting the facts must be misrepresenting Islam. After all, no religion could possibly teach that unbelievers should be fought simply for being unbelievers!

Similarly, many Muslims in America have been raised with Western values, and they believe in Western values. But since they don't know much about Islam, they are convinced that Islam teaches the same thing (when it doesn't).

This is the problem with religion in the first place. Adherents turn perfectly benign beliefs in the brotherhood of man (and woman) and the parenthood of God(ess) into a contest of exclusivity! If religious people would just become as enlightened as we reporters, journalists, and news anchors, then everyone would understand how objectively correct we are in pointing out the relativism of all moral and religious beliefs! Let us all put down the dogma, already! Get it? Put down the dog-ma?

10. There are efforts from people like Irshad Manji to reform Islam into a less oppressive religion. Is this even possible?

People are free to reinterpret Islam, and this is what many are already doing here in the West. The problem is that wherever Islam spreads, there will always be a minority of Muslims who take the Qur'an and Hadith seriously. So no matter how much Irshad Manji waters down the religion of Muhammad, Muslims will continue to oppress unbelievers.

When women and minorities are abused in Islamic countries and bring that abuse to the West, I tolerate it as a mark of their culture that I can’t bring myself to critique in public, even if I wanted to. I’ve abdicated my ability to criticize Islam out of loyalty to moral and religious relativism and political correctness. Christianity—now that’s another matter altogether…

Personal reflection:
An army base with unsuspecting and men and women, most of them unarmed. Motive: kill the enemy. Triggerman: one Soldier of Allah. Result: 13 dead.

However the media (and the military) chose at one point to characterize what happened, I can’t ignore the clear, linear progression of logic that led Hasan to attack the personnel at Ft. Hood. For a Muslim dedicated to the supremacy of Allah by following Qu’ran to the letter, mass murder became more necessary than any gentle proselytizing. Maj. Nidal Hasan was an officer in our military, yet he was of another military, that of Islam. In short, he was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, following the path of what he believed a good Soldier of Allah was supposed to do.

Oh yes, let’s go there. Though 13 people died, assuming none were Muslim, according to the laws within Islam, Hasan did not commit murder at all. The dead were only Jews, Christians, and infidels worthy to be swept up in body bags as the consequence of victory in jihad. In Islam, there is no murder of non-Muslims, just death. This is the first tragedy of Ft. Hood.

The second tragedy is this: it took months for the Army to finally spit out the word “terrorist” in the same sentence as Hasan’s name. And the mainstream media? I’m still waiting. And in the pit of my stomach, I suspect I will be waiting forever. Journalists are doing the equivalent of sticking one’s head in the sand to hide from the obvious. Hasan’s beliefs are Islamic…and protected in the shadow of welfare in a beautiful, magical, multicultural world. Therefore, saying anything negative about the origin of his violence (ahem, Islam) is strictly prohibited in the uber-PC culture of the mainstream media. Political correctness forces us to ignore where Hasan got his jihadist mindset (um, the Qu’ran and the Hadith?)

So it seems that some want to imply that Hasan could have been a radical, violent, religious nutcase that had just as much chance of shooting up an army base as a Christian as he did as a Muslim. Fine. If that were the case, I have complete confidence that the media will call him for what he is: a murderer.

But if political correctness in the media can’t call something for what it is, like murder, terrorism, and jihad, then we might as well blame political correctness for murdering 13 people. If that is the case, then political correctness needs to be murdered in order for people to live.