Monday, January 4, 2016

APOLOGETICS CONVERSION STORIES: Resources

Some people say that you can't argue anyone into the kingdom and that apologetics is a waste of time. Below are dozens of stories that say otherwise and relate the very practical importance of apologetics. Apologetics strengthens the faith of believers and persuades unbelievers.

I came to Christ as a young child (so apologetics did not play a role in my conversion), but apologetics has kept me strong in my faith when life has been hard. But for many, apologetics has played a key role. And in fact, that is how many of the best apologists have come to faith.

One thing that you will see if you read enough stories is that different kinds of evidence persuade different kinds of people. For some, scientific evidence (such as related to the cosmological argument or the fine-tuning of the universe) was most important in opening their minds to Christ. For others, it was philosophical arguments--such as the moral argument. For still others, it was the evidence for the resurrection....or something else.

Most of the links below relate to how apologetics played an instrumental role in people coming to Christ--and most of them are of former atheists. A few highlight how apologetics strengthens believers, which has been my own story. At the very bottom, there are collections of very diverse testimonies of conversion. But they all tell people's stories of how Christ drew them to himself, and I think you will enjoy all of them.


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"Atheists Who Convert: A Case Study" by Joel Furches. Wow!

A whole month of conversion stories by my friend Joel Furches. This fantastic series of articles at Examiner.com features "stories of noted atheists who experienced dramatic shifts in their views, eventually becoming Christians. The stories...highlight the reasons why they held their atheistic views to begin with, and the reasons they became convinced of the truth of Christianity."

"Atheist Homicide Detective Finds Evidence for God" (6-minute video). Famous L.A. Cold-Case Detective J. Warner Wallace tells his story. You can find his website here.

Why Three Brilliant Atheists Became Christians: The conversion stories of astronomer Allan Sandage, geneticist Francis Collins and award-winning journalist Lee Strobel. An excellent but FREE 35-page booklet by my friend Ronald Cram.

Skeptics Who Demanded a Verdict by Josh McDowell. The conversion stories of Charles W. Colson (lawyer and Special Counsel to President Nixon), C.S. Lewis (Oxford professor and prolific author) and Josh McDowell (internationally famous author and Christian apologist). A FREE 106-page book.

The Most Reluctant Convert: C.S. Lewis' Journey to Faith by David C. Downing (available in hardcover, paperback, Audible and MP3 CD). Or you can borrow it for FREE! through OverDrive (through coordination with local libraries) in audiobook.

"Why Muslim Dr. Nabeel Qureshi Converted to Christianity" (38-minute video). Dr. Qureshi also tells his story of how his friend David Wood used apologetics to lead him to Christ in his bestselling book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus (328 pages). Available in paperback, Kindle, Audible & Audio CD. Or you can borrow it for FREE! through OverDrive (through coordination with local libraries) in ebook audiobook. It is an easy and enjoyable read. This book received the 2015 Christian Book Award for "Best Non-Fiction" and "Best New Author." I highly recommend it. You can find out more about Qureshi here.

"My Search For Messiah" (2-Part Series produced by Day of Discovery). Dr. Michael Rydelnik shares his story of how he grew up as a Jew and came to know that Jesus is the Messiah prophesied in the Torah, by looking closely at several key messianic prophecies. *Part I (26 min); *Part II (26 min)

"Atheist Doctor Converts to Christianity" (7 1/2 minute video). In his book The God DiagnosisDr. Viehman bxplains how he went through the process of examining the evidence of Christianity and God changing his life (which is available in paperback, cheap on Kindle and also available on Audible).

Master Illusionist Andre Kole (inventor of over 1000 illusions including about 100 of David Copperfield's illusions) approached Jesus' Miracles as a skeptic before becoming a believer (6-minute video)

"Why I Am a Christian (David Woods, Former Atheist)". A powerful testimony of how God turned a hardened pscychopath into a believer (34-minute video).

*Atheist and Cincinatti Reds baseball player Frank Pastore shares why he now believes. His book Shattered that retells his story (in Kindle, paperback, Audible or Audio CD). A 2-minute video of the beginning of the audio version of the book. You can borrow the ebook or the audiobook for FREE! through OverDrive if your local library uses this service.

*Not God's Type: An Atheist Academic Lays Down Her Arms by Holly Ordway (in Kindle or Hardcover). "As a well-educated college English professor, she saw no need for just-so stories about God. Secure in her fortress of atheism, she was safe (or so she thought) from any assault by irrational faith." You can borrow the ebook for FREE! through OverDrive if your local library uses this service.

*The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield (in Kindle, paperback, Audible or Audio CD). "Rosaria, by the standards of many, was living a very good life. She had a tenured position at a large university in a field for which she cared deeply. She owned two homes with her partner, in which they provided hospitality to students and activists that were looking to make a difference in the world. There, her partner rehabilitated abandoned and abused dogs. In the community, Rosaria was involved in volunteer work. At the university, she was a respected advisor of students and her department's curriculum. And then, in her late 30s, Rosaria encountered something that turned her world upside down-the idea that Christianity, a religion that she had regarded as problematic and sometimes downright damaging, might be right about who God was, an idea that flew in the face of the people and causes that she most loved. What follows is a story of what she describes as a "train wreck" at the hand of the supernatural. These are her secret thoughts about those events, written as only a reflective English professor could." You can borrow the audiobook for FREE! through OverDrive if your local library uses this service.

"Josh McDowell - Catastrophic Love" (16-minute video)

"Atheist Journalist Turns to Christ After Investigating Evidence - Lee Strobel" (42 minutes). Award-winning legal journalist for the Chicago Tribune.

"Atheist Scientist Becomes Christian After Researching Evidence for God": Astrophysicist Dr. Hugh Ross (41 minutes)

"Atheist Gets Her PhD in Astronomy and Astrophysics and Finds Evidence for God": Dr. Sarah Salvander

19th Century Darwinist Intellectual Finds Evidence That Leads Him Back to Christ
*George Romanes (1848-1894) was a close friend of Charles Darwin.

Another 19th Century Intellectual Finds Evidence That Leads Him Back to Christ
*Thomas Cooper (1805-92), a prolific lecturer on historical subjects, became a passionate skeptic, writing and speaking vigorously against Christianity, but later in life he became an even more passionate defender of the faith.

A Collection of stories of Victorian Atheists Who Came to Christ: Crisis of Doubt by Timothy Larsen. Larsen says about his book (in an interview recorded in an Amazon review): "Scholarship on the Victorian age has been obsessed with the loss of faith and with unbelievers – atheists, agnostics, and secularists. Numerous books have been written which tell such life stories as if they are the story of what it means to be a thinking person in the modern world. I found in my research, however, that there was a major trend of atheist leaders coming to faith. Far, far more of the top leaders of the secularist movement became Christians than Christian leaders lost their faith. Yet no scholars had ever carried about this huge phenomenon! My book tells their stories and analyzes this historical pattern. Most of the chapters are details sketches which tell a life from beginning to end, including how they became a leading voice for unbelief, how famous they were in the freethinking movement, how they came to faith in Christ, and how they answered the skeptical arguments that they once found so compelling."

My friend Mark McGee had considered many different kinds of evidence, but it was the loads of archaeological evidence for the Bible that caused him to become serious in his investigation of who Christ is. See his series of 29 articles on the subject (in reverse order of publication).

*"Confessions of a Former Skeptic: Ex-atheist Conversion Stories" (53-minute video recording of a webinar). "Five ex-atheists talk to the Apologetics Academy about their journeys of following the evidence to faith in Christ. Ex-atheists featured include Dr. Gunter Bechly, Daniel Rodger, Elizabeth Mooney, Chris Claus and Mark McGee."

*"How An Atheist Found God" by Marilyn Adamson, directory of EveryStudent.com


"Former Atheist Richard Morgan Interview"A former fan of Richard Dawkins tells his story.

"An Atheist Changes His Mind About God": "Engineer Nick Berryman was an atheist, who enjoyed reading Richard Dawkins' 'The God Delusion.' He changed his mind about God when a friend introduced him to books by CS Lewis, John Lennox and Alister McGrath."

"My Apologetics Testimony - A Mormon Friend" by Paul Buller


My friend Maryann Spikes' Testimony

"Confessions of Former Atheists: Daniel Rodger, Peter Byrom and Hugh Ross (65 minutes)

"How God Turns a French Atheist into a Christian Theologian - My Conversion Story" by Guillame Bignon. His testimony is also available in a 20-minute video.

The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ: The memoir of Andrew Klavan, author and screenplay writer

"Conversion of a Cynic": The conversion of Malcolm Muggeridge

"Another Atheist Who Became a Christian": Nichole Cliff, Harvard educated writer

"Testimony from a Ratio Christi Member" at Think Apologetics

"Apologetics Stories"A collection of testimonies by my friend Carson Weitnauer

"Atheists Who Became Christians" a collection of articles by my friend Jay Wile, who is a former atheist himself.

"Testimonials": People have written of how God has used the Reasonable Faith apologetics ministry founded and led by Dr. William Lane Craig in their lives. 

"Having Answers for Skeptics Can Lead to Faith" by my friend Carson Weitnauer. Carson explains how he has seen God use apologetics in his many years as a campus minister.

"Why Apologetics?" by Mary Jo Sharp (1 1/2 minute video)



MISC. CONVERSION STORIES

"The Top 5 Testimonies of 2015" at Christianity Today.

Dozens of Conversion Stories at Christianity Today.

The Legacy Project: Conversion stories and other testimonies

I Am Second

Crisis of Doubt: Honest Faith in Nineteenth Century England by Timothy Larsen



STILL LOOKING?.....
*Check out this article: Does Apologetics Convert People? by Clint Roberts at Credo House....
OR....this list of links to testimonies at Christian CADRE.


Atheist Homicide Detective Finds Evidence for God" 
(6-minute video)

Saturday, January 2, 2016

MY BLOG'S TOP 10 POSTS IN 2015

Here are my blogs top 10 posts for 2015. The first list is rated purely by pageviews. The Second list is the list by pageviews and amended in order of Google+ votes (and in the case of ties by pageviews). The third list is based on Google+ votes (and in the case of ties by pageviews). Interesting how it varies! (Though I should note that I have only recently boosted my visibility among Google+ users.)

As of midnight December 31, my blog had 22,499 pageviews since I started blogging 3 years ago, and 14,429 of those views were in 2015. And 11,740 were from November and December! So I am very excited about how God has begun to use this blog. It is finally beginning to take the shape that I had hoped that it would (though I have much more work to do). Thanks to all of you who have encouraged me through your comments, shares and pageviews! :)


BASED ONLY ON PAGEVIEWS....
1. Archaeological Confirmation of the New Testament
2. Read the Bible in 2015 (the link will take you to the article as it has been revised for 2016)
3. Do We Really Need to Teach Apologetics in the Church?
4. Free Online Classes for Studying the Bible and Apologetics
5. What Apologetics Book Should You Read First?
6. Resources for the Study of Messianic Prophecy
7. Master List of Apologetic Resources
8. Archaeological Confirmation of the Old Testament
9. 1000s of FREE Books for Apologetics & Bible Study
10. Getting Started in Apologetics


BASED ON PAGEVIEWS AND AMENDED BY GOOGLE+ VOTES....
1. Archaeological Confirmation of the New Testament 10
2. What Apologetics Book Should You Read First? 10
3. Read the Bible in 2015 (the link will take you to the article as it has been revised for 2016) 8
4. Getting Started in Apologetics 8
5. 1000s of FREE Books for Apologetics & Bible Study 4
6. Do We Really Need to Teach Apologetics in the Church? 2
7. Resources for the Study of Messianic Prophecy 1
8. Master List of Apologetic Resources 1
9. Archaeological Confirmation of the Old Testament 1
10. Free Online Classes for Studying the Bible and Apologetics


BASED ON GOOGLE+ VOTES....
1. Archaeological Confirmation of the New Testament
2. What Apologetics Book Should You Read First?
3. Read the Bible in 2015 (the link will take you to the article as it has been revised for 2016)
4. Getting Started in Apologetics
5. Blaise Pascal: A Bibliography
6. 10 More Great Books That Are Free
7. Works of Dead Apologists
8. Building a Bible & Apologetics Reference Library
9. So-Called Lost Gospels (Gnostic Writings): A Bibliography
10. 1000s of FREE Books for Apologetics & Bible Study



Friday, January 1, 2016

THE SMALLEST SEED IN MARK 4:31 ~ Examining a Difficult Bible Verse

In Mark 4:30-32, Jesus says: "What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade" (NIV). Or did he say that? Did Jesus really claim that the mustard seed "is the smallest of all seeds on earth"? This is how the NIV (New International Version) translates these verses. But could they have been translated better?

This seems to be one of those perennial questions. It often stumps believers who come upon it. And of course, skeptics relish the opportunity to say Jesus made a mistake or the Bible has errors. Recently, this issue has come up a couple of times in a Facebook group that I am a part of. The second such discussion was introduced using a blog article by John Tors at "Truth In My Days." The article is titled: "DID JESUS ERR ABOUT THE SIZE OF MUSTARD SEEDS? A Case Study in How to Do Serious Evangelical Apologetics." 

(1) A BRIEF CRITICISM OF TORS' ARTICLE
The author does a good job of surveying the popular internet solutions to the problem (even if he does not seem to fully understand them). And I truly appreciate his passion and sympathize with his concerns. But the arrogant and caustic tone of the article bothers me as he castigates prominent scholars and then declares that he alone has the answer to this problem. If he had studied more carefully, he would have seen that all of  the suggestions he surveys have merit and contribute to our understanding of this passage. And the one he begins with is indeed the best scholarly solution (and not the "gambit" that he declares it to be).

Tors is correct in noting that the word that the NIV translates as "earth" (ges = γῆς) can be used to mean simply agricultural land or soil. Even in English, the word "earth" can be used to mean our planet OR a handful of soil. But after castigating Daniel Wallace for limiting the meaning of "seed" (sperma) to "sown seed", Tors determines that "earth" should be "that limited area of ground for agricultural use"--by which he means to say that the word refers to a specific piece of property or a certain field. But that is not what Bauer is indicating in his Greek lexicon. It is a valid interpretation of the word in context but it is not the straightforward meaning given by Bauer. So my point here is NOT that Tors is in error by doing this (context can narrow the meaning of a word), but rather that he is doing exactly the thing that he castigates Wallace for doing (or at least what he thinks Wallace is doing, which we shall see is not really the case).


(2) A WORD ABOUT USING REFERENCE WORKS
Tors whole argument hinges on his determination that any interpretation must rely on a straightforward reading of a Greek dictionary, and in this case, Bauer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. But dictionaries are produced by humans. Bauer's (BAGD) is the standard Greek lexicon, but it is not perfect. Bauer was a great Greek scholar and no one has surpassed his work as a number one go-to reference for the meaning of Greek words. One reason is because it is so exhaustive in scope. But it still has weaknesses. Bauer was a human being and not on some ethereal plane far above Wallace and the rest of us. (Interestingly, Tors is simply pitting Bauer's Greek reference work against Wallace's Greek reference work.) In this case, Bauer did not see the need to differentiate between "seeds used for agricultural purposes" and "seeds of plants in general." The other weakness is that Bauer does not give any etymologies (studies of word origins). I realized early on in my study of Greek that it is immensely helpful to consult more than one reference work when trying to sort out a difficulty with the meaning of a Greek word. This is why I have several Greek reference works on my shelves (one has 3 volumes and another has 10 volumes, while Bauer is a single volume); and I have ready access to at least three more on my computer. If Tors had consulted a few more reference works (he only consults Bauer and Wallace--whom he rejects), he would have seen that Wallace is right on the money, and the problem would have instantly dissolved.


(3) A LOOK AT THE MEANING OF THE PARABLE OF THE MUSTARD SEED
So let's look at this verse in Mark 4:31: "It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth" (NIV):

(A) A PROBLEM OF TRANSLATION

The NIV (New International Version) does a terrible job of translating this verse. Going to the Blue Letter Bible, we can quickly see that all of the other versions do a much better job and include the phrase that modifies mustard seed: "WHICH WHEN PLANTED ON THE SOIL." This is in fact, in the original Greek and an important part of the context, but the NIV does not translate it at all. The NASB does the best job of all here (though it is not always the best, contrary to NASB fans): "It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the soil, though it is smaller than all the seeds that are upon the soil,...." 

For the sake of convenient reference, let me repeat their translation with the key Greek words inserted: "It is like a mustard seed (κόκκῳ = kokko = Masculine Singular Dative of kokkos), which, when sown (σπαρῇ = spare = 3rd Person Singular Aorist Passive Subjunctive of speiro) upon the soil (γῆς = Feminine Singular Genitive of ges), though it is smaller than all the seeds (σπερμάτων = spermaton = Neuter Plural Genitive of sperma) that are upon the soil (γῆς = Feminine Singular Genitive of ges),...."

(B) THE IMPORTANCE OF CONTEXT
 As Tors rightly notes, the context here is agriculture. And context is THE most important issue in interpretation of language. We can see that this parable is about agriculture in the immediate context (in the phrase that the NIV totally leaves out): "sown (speiro) upon the soil." We can also see this context in the very next verse: "Yet when planted (speiro, same word as in 4:31), it grows and becomes THE LARGEST OF ALL *GARDEN PLANTS* (λαχάνων = lachanon), with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade" (NIV). Fortunately, the NIV gets this verse right. If we look beyond this parable, we see that it is also part of the larger context of Mark 4, as Jesus tells two other explicitly agricultural parables immediately prior to this one.

(C) THE MEANING OF "SEED"
But what about that word "seed" (sperma) which Wallace maintained should be translated as "sown seed" (but which Tors said was incorrect). Consulting other references besides Bauer (BAGD), I immediately found distinctions that Bauer failed to make.  

(i.) Kittel (the 10-volume work, which is really the number one place to go when investigating the range of meanings for a Greek word) groups words into cognate groups. So immediately we see that "seed" (sperma) is from the group of Greek words that include "sown" (speiro, which is used in verse 31 and again in 32), "sowing" (spora), "sowing, seed" (sporos) and "sown" (sporimos). These are all of the cognates of "seed" (sperma) and they all have an agricultural meaning. (Checking Verbrugge gives the same results but adds nothing further.) So it is easy to see that this group of words are all words used in agriculture and so THE PRIMARY MEANING (not just a possible meaning) of "seed" (sperma) is "SEED USED IN AGRICULTURE" (or as Wallace put it: "sown seed"). 

(ii.) If we consult Brown's 3-volume Dictionary of New Testament Theology, we see the same cognate group. And the very first sentence of the article begins: "In secular Gk. the sperma group is commonly used in the literal sense of sowing plant seeds...." 

(iii.) Consulting Liddell & Scott's lexicon, the very first definition given for this word "seed" (sperma) and therefore the most common sense of the word is: "that which is sown." So we immediately see that three of the best Greek reference works available agree that this word refers to seed used in agriculture.

(iv.) For those of you who do not have access to all of these reference works, you can go to Blue Letter Bible (or other online Bibles) and use the tools there and discover the same thing. Blue Letter Bible provides the meanings from Thayer's lexicon and Strong's concordance. Thayer's is not as clear here, but if you look closely you will find the phrase ("of the grains or kernels sown"). If you use the etymological tool (which relies on Strong's), you will see that this word "seed" (sperma) is derived from the "root word" speiro (which means to "sow" or "scatter seed": again, the word "sown" that is used in the parable of the mustard seed in Mark 4:31, 32). Furthermore, the Blue Letter Bible gives you all the New Testament occurrences of the word (scroll down), so you can quickly read through and see for yourself how the word is used in the New Testament. If you do that, you will see that the New Testament writers only use this word in an explicitly agricultural context, except when it is used in its figurative sense referring to human descendants. But when referring to plants, it is always seed that is "sown" and usually makes explicit mention of a farmer.

(v.) It is also important to note that these are the kinds of categories that people in the ancient world put things. They used practical categories. They did not use the same kinds of scientific means for categorizing living things that we do. This way of classifying things has only been developed in the last 500 years. So, bats are put in the same category as birds because they fly. And whales in the same category as fish, because they swim in the water. There is nothing inherently wrong with that. It is just a different way of sorting.

(vi.) Now that you have a better understanding of what the Greek word for "seed" (sperma) means, let me point out one more thing: The first word that Jesus uses for "seed" is kokkos. He then shifts to sperma when noting the realm in which the mustard seed is the smallest.


(D) SUMMARY OF THE DATA
So let's summarize the data that we have gathered:
(i.) Jesus says that the mustard is the smallest of "seeds" (sperma). Sperma is part of a group of words that are all have a meaning related to sowing seed for agricultural purposes. This is conclusive evidence that the word sperma originally referred only to seed that was to be sown for the purpose of agriculture. It is possible for the meaning of words to change over time and occasionally take on a completely different meaning, particularly among certain groups of people. This is why Greek references (such as Kittel) that explore the range of meaning for a word not only offer etymologies but also give brief studies of how the word was used in particular eras and by certain groups (e.g., classical Greek, the Septuagint, the New Testament). But I could find no indication that sperma took on any different meaning (except when used figuratively of human descendants, which does not affect our discussion here). Certainly, in the New Testament, whenever sperma is used in reference to the seeds of plants, it refers to seed that is being sown for agriculture.

(ii.) This is all confirmed in the broader context (Jesus' previous parables and rural setting) and the immediate context of Mark 4:31-32, which is filled with agricultural terms: "When the mustard seed (kokkos) is sown (speiro) upon the soil (ges), it is the smallest of agricultural seeds (sperma) sown (probably an assumed verb here based on sentence structure) on the soil (ges) but grows and becomes the largest of agricultural plants (lachanon)."

(iii.) So what word would be used if the ancients wanted to refer to just any seed (whether wild or domesticated)? As we already noted, there is the word kokkos. So Jesus' shift from kokkos to sperma only reinforces the fact that it is the smallest of agricultural seeds sperma and that it is NOT being compared to all seeds, including wild seeds (kokkos).


CONCLUSION
Therefore the clear meaning of Jesus' words in Mark 4:31-32 is as follows: "It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the soil, though it is smaller than all the other agricultural seeds that are sown upon the soil, grows and becomes the largest of all the agricultural plants." This is the most natural meaning of Jesus' words here. 
Furthermore, in the context, Jesus is not trying to make a botanical or horticultural point here. When interpreting what someone is saying, you also need to consider the genre being used, the recipients, and the intention. Here Jesus is speaking to a crowd of Jews and speaking a parable about the kingdom of God. So that context narrows the meaning even further. He is not saying it is the smallest agricultural seed that has ever been sown or ever will be sown. He is simply talking to them about what they are familiar with and using that as an analogy to how the kingdom of God grows. Therefore, Jesus' words in context might very well be translated as: "It is like a mustard seed, which when you (you Jews listening to me) sow upon the soil is the smallest seed you sow upon the soil, grows and becomes the largest of the plants in your fields and gardens."

So, no. Jesus did NOT claim that the mustard seed was the smallest seed of any plant in the history of the world past, present or future....or on other planets or in other universes! He simply was using an analogy that the people that he was talking to would understand: "Of all the seeds you sow in your fields and gardens, the mustard seed is the smallest, but then it grows and becomes the largest."

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