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Christian Truth Seekers, Myth Busters, and Trolls

Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa was a horrible person. Mother Teresa was a wonderful person. Which statement you believe is important. We should want to believe as many true things and as few false things as possible. But it’s also important why you believe something. Christianity puts a premium on truth.

A friend posted a link to Tim Challies’ The Myth of Mother Teresa on Facebook and a mini-debate erupted.

Just what Mother Teresa would have wanted.

Mother Teresa
Mother Teresa © 1986 Túrelio (via Wikimedia-Commons), 1986 / , via Wikimedia Commons

An argument on Facebook? Say it isn’t so!

What surprised me were the reasons people didn’t like the article:

  • The article was based on a suspicious source, notably the late Christopher Hitchens.
  • The results of Mother Teresa’s work was positive not just to those she helped but to those who were inspired by her example to serve others. Therefore, we souldn’t smear her.

What should concern people, especially Christians, is whether or not the article was true. The objections on FB were like shooting at the flags atop a bastion rather than storming the gate.

Bad Sources (Objection #1)

Suspicious sources should always make us… suspicious. But suspicious doesn’t mean untrue. Christopher Hitchens was mistaken about a lot of things. He was philosophically weak as can be seen from his dialogues with Douglas Wilson and William Lane Craig. But boy could Hitch land some real zingers. Zingers can win an audience but not a debate.

Christians should avoid biased thinking that goes something like this:

  • Christian always tell the truth.
  • Non-christians always lie.

What gives a statement is truth value is whether or not it corresponds to reality not the source (except in the case of God).

It’s okay to attack a source but proving that the source was Hitler (to take an extreme example) doesn’t prove the argument that cites that source incorrect. For example, people have argued that Naziism was anti semitic. To prove their point they cite a speech by Hitler in which he rails against Jews. It would be silly to respond by saying, “You can’t cite Hitler because he was a really bad guy.”

Christopher Hitchens may have told hundreds of lies a day and still be a reliable source when it comes to Mother Teresa.

Incidentally, Hitchens was not the only source for Challies’ article.

[Tweet “Christians can use a source in good conscience if they’ve done their due diligence.”]

The Ends Justify the Means (Objection #2)

Some objected to the smearing of MT because of all the good she did. They might say, “Even if we grant that she wasn’t all that great she certainly inspired a lot of others to do  good works.”

There are two problems with this objection:

  1. Whether or not MT did a lot of good is exactly what’s being questioned.
  2. The ends don’t justify the means.

Circular Reasoning: #1 is a problem because it’s an example of circular reasoning. Circular reasoning assumes what the argument is trying to prove. This type of argument isn’t very persuasive because it often sounds like, “Because I said so!” to the listener.

Demonstrably False: #2 is a problem because it’s demonstrably false. For example, suppose a person robbed a bank and gave the money to a children’s hospital. Donating stolen funds doesn’t justify the theft. For something to be moral it should have a good result in mind, but a good result (even if you can accomplish it) does not by itself make something moral.

Temporal vs Eternal Worth: Some say that those arguing that MT did some good may have an escape hatch. by distinguishing between deeds that have temporal worth vs eternal worth. I don’t accept that something can have temporal worth without having eternal worth. I’d rather stick with the idea of good in the eyes of man and good in the eyes of God.

None of these objections or my answers to them answer the question of whether or not MT was a good person, with good motives, who did good things.

The claim “MT did a lot of good” is an ontological claim.

I want to encourage Christians to support their ontological claims with sound epistemology.

If you reject the stories about MT because of bad epistemology or accept them because of bad epistemology you both have room to improve.

Truth Seekers, Myth Busters, and Trolls

I wasn’t trying to convince my Facebook friends that Tim was right and MT was a horrible person. I’m not trying to convince anyone of that now.

The goal is to help Christians focus on their commitment to truth.

Ben Shapiro in a speech at the University of Missouri made it very clear what he cared about:

I want to go through all of these specifics because I think it’s important for people to actually assess whether or not these things are true in the United States at current. Let me put one thing first, I don’t care about your feelings.[1]

Christians may choose to use different language to express the same idea. Truth trumps tone. A lie spoken sweetly is no better than one brutally expressed. Truth is objective. Tone is subjective.

Todd Friel talked about the number one sin in evangelical churches today:

[Tweet “Trolls stir things up. People don’t like trolls. Christians should be good trolls.”]

Trolls stir things up. People don’t like trolls. Christians should be good trolls. They should stir things up. Not just for the sake of it but because the things we need to talk about are out of bounds. Whenever you see a Christian leader’s life exposed those doing the exposing are often despised and attacked. There’s a right and wrong way to deal with sin. I’m not arguing against that. But let’s not vilify those exposing false doctrine, theology, or practice.

I couldn’t tell if I got through to the folks on Facebook. I hope I did.

Christians are followers of Jesus. Jesus called himself “the way, the truth, and the life.” That should matter to us.

You can see seven other reasons why Christians should care about truth and education here.


  1. Shapiro, Benjamin A. “Ben Shapiro Destroys the Concept of White Privilege.” YouTube. November 28, 2015. Accessed December 28, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rrxZRuL65wQ.  ↩
  2. I have to give a shoutout to my friend Jon Winsley for his helpful feedback and critique.
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A Primer on Knowledge? Rationalism vs Empiricism

The Consituents of Knowledge

Humans are knowing creatures. Our mental capabilities are vital to our existence and full of amazing possibilities. Our ability to expand our knowledge spurs science, culture, and religion forward. But how do we know what we know? Maybe we should back up a little. What is knowledge? How do we grow what we know? Can we justify what we know to others? Knowledge—what seems to be a basic feature of everyday life—is a complex subject.

What Is Epistemology?

All these inquiries fall under the philosophical branch of study called epistemology. The word epistemology is an English word derived from two Greek words:

  • Episteme (knowledge or understanding)
  • Logos (the study of)

In short, epistemology is the study of knowledge.[1] Philosophers know it as the “study of the theory of knowledge.” We’ll look at a brief historical overview of the philosophical category of epistemology. Our special focus will be the differences between rationalism and empiricism.

What is Knowledge?

Knowledge is “justified true belief.” It’s been the accepted definition for centuries and it’s the one I’ll be using.[2] Defining one’s terms is easy to neglect, but it’s integral to the philosophical process. More ink has been spilled over definitions than you’d imagine. So let’s take care of this important matter. Knowledge is “justified true belief.” This definition has three parts:

  • Belief – You must believe something in order for to have knowledge. You cannot know something is you don’t believe it.
  • Truth – The thing you believe must correspond to reality. You cannot know something that is false.
  • Justification – You need a reason for your belief. This is why guessing the number of M&Ms in a carnival game (it’s 527 by the way) by chance is called “luck.” You cannot “luck” into knowledge.

The Consituents of Knowledge

You need all three to have knowledge. If you only have two out of three you get one of the following:

  • Belief + Truth = Something you believe, that’s also true, but for which you lack any justification. Some might call this blind faith.
  • Belief + Justification = Something you believe but are wrong about.
  • Truth + Justification = Something you should believe but don’t.

3 Kinds of Knowledge

Philosophers have categorized knowledge into three different and unique groups:[3]

Acquaintance Knowledge (Who)

The knowledge of a person through being in some sort of relationship to them. Sometime called intimate knowledge.

Competence Knowledge (How)

The knowledge of a skill or ability. For example, knowing how to play an instrument or a sport. It’s a knowledge gained through repetition and the development of muscle memory.

Propositional Knowledge (What)

The knowledge of facts or propositions gained through study or observation.

Putting It All Together

What’s it like to have one kind of knowledge but not another about a topic? Imagine I knew every fact (proposition) about you mother: height, favorite movie, age, etc. My knowledge would still be qualitatively different from yours. You know her (acquaintance knowledge). I just know about her. The same goes for competence knowledge. You can tell me all the facts about how to play the trumpet, but I won’t be able to play it well without practice and repetition.

The Acquisition and Justification of Propositional Knowledge

The only kind of knowledge debated by philosophers is propositional knowledge. The two major schools of thought that have been duking it out for centuries are:

  • Rationalism (Represented by Plato)
  • Empiricism (Represented by Aristotle)

The other minor schools of thought are just variations of these two. I consider myself a rationalist and utterly detest empiricism. Nonetheless I’ll try to give you an accurate account of both.

Plato and the Rationalist School

Plato believed that humans participated in two spheres of existence:

  • The world of the forms (pure being)
  • The world of particular things (becoming)

The world of the forms is an unchanging immaterial world of pure being. The world of particular things is the material, constantly changing world we’re all familiar with. Plato got these ideas from two philosophers before him, Heraclitus and Parmenides.[4]
For Heraclitus, ultimate reality is in a state of flux; it’s always changing or becoming. He said that you can never step in the same river twice. If you remove your foot from the river and then put it back, all the molecules have moved and it is, in a sense, a different river.[5]

Parmenides, on the other hand, believed that all of reality is pure being. He realized that there are such things as universal, unchanging principles. For example, one plus one equals two.

Plato saw the elements of truth in both perspectives. Instead of picking one over the other, he synthesized them into his doctrine of the two worlds. Plato agreed with Parmenides that there are unchanging principles. Plato calls these unchanging principles the “forms.” Plato relegated the forms to another world because he agreed with Heraclitus that the world we experience is always changing. Thus Plato divides the universe into two categories:

  • Forms (essences)
  • Particulars (individual examples of forms)

Plato taught that every particular thing represents an essence. For example, if you draw a square your drawing would be a particular square and not the essential or perfect square. Your particular square is representing the idea (form) of the perfect square.

Plato applied this dualism to mankind saying that the human being is composed of body and soul. The body is participating in the world of becoming by getting older and changing in appearance. The soul is participating in the world of the forms through immortality and reason. Plato did this because he noticed that humans are capable of interacting with the forms through reason. He attributed this ability to the reality of innate ideas.[6]

Innate Ideas

Innate ideas are a form of knowledge that the mind contains prior to experience and birth. For Plato, innate knowledge is knowledge of the forms. Plato explained the existence of innate ideas with that of the preexistence of the soul. The only way that one could have knowledge of the forms at birth is if the person’s soul existed in the world of the forms prior to birth.[7] For Plato knowledge in this life is not a process of acquisition but of remembrance.

The World of Particulars Is Structured on the World of the Forms

Plato contends that the world of particular things is structured off off the world of the forms. This means that the mind is capable of understanding things about the external world (the world outside one’s own mind) because it’s conscious of the structure that the world it’s founded upon. This is essentially what it means to be rationalist; it is to believe that the world and the mind share the same structure. This is what makes knowledge possible. For the rationalist, reason is both a reliable and primary guide for grounding knowledge.

Aristotle and the Empiricist School

Aristotle was Plato’s student. He knew all about Plato’s doctrine of the two worlds, but rejected it. Although he believed in universals (forms), he denied the preexistence of the soul as being necessary to explain how we know about them. Aristotle said we become conscious of universals the other way around. Rather than starting with innate ideas we start with particulars and work our way up. This is because Aristotle believed that universals or the forms are not innate knowledge.[8]
Aristotle said we’re all born as blank slates. We acquire knowledge through our experience of particulars. We then universalize these experiences and apply them to new experiences.[9]
Consider the idea of similarity. Things that are similar share certain characteristics. Remember the game “Which of these does not belong?” You won by picking item doesn’t share the characteristic the others do. Care to play? Which of the following does not belong:

  • Bat
  • Penguin
  • Crow
  • Sparrow

If you answered “Bat” congratulations! Bats are mammals the rest are birds. Bird-ness is what all the members of the list above share (their similarity) except for the bat. We learn what bird-ness is by experiencing particular birds. This is what it means to be an empiricist; we gain knowledge through experience. For an empiricist, experience is the grounding principle of knowledge.

And the Winner Is…

In conclusion, as tempting as empiricism may appear, it has significant problems. How can the idea of similarity even get off the ground if we didn’t have some notion of it to begin with? This goes for the idea of equality, dissimilarity, and sameness as well. If it’s true that we’re born with no innate knowledge how could we come to any conclusions at all? We couldn’t. Empiricism destroys knowledge. We’d be a bundle of perceived particulars we couldn’t do anything with. We’d be like the beasts driven by instinct. Or we might be like a tree having life but no discernible consciousness. If empiricism destroys our foundation for knowledge then it is demonstrably inferior to rationalism.

Rationalism Works

Furthermore, rationalism works. We can apply universal principles to the external world (the world outside our own minds) successfully. Engineers do this every day. They draw their reason on paper. When followed, reason produces stable buildings. This implies that reality has a structure complementary to the human mind. But how could this be? Was Plato right? Is there a world of forms that serves as the foundation for the world of particular things?

Rationalism, Plato’s Forms, and God’s Aseity

Since we just finished beating up empiricism you may be tempted to say “yes.”. Not so fast. There’s one more qualification we need to make. In the Christian worldview God is the only entity which has the characteristic of aseity. Aseity is complete independence.[10] The forms are not completely independent, but rather find their origin in the mind of God which St. Augustine pointed out.[11]

Because we’re created in God’s image we have these principles implanted in our consciousness. This makes the whole knowing enterprise possible. It also explains why rationalism works. The external world is intelligible because a supremely intelligent God created it.

Christian rationalism is superior to empiricism because:

  • It has the most explanatory power.
  • It does not share the weaknesses of empiricism.
  • It’s faithful to the Bible.
  • It works in the real world.

So there you have it, an overview of the differences between rationalism and empiricism.

Christian Apologetics by Douglas Groothuis


  1. Lawhead, William F. The Philosophical Journey: An Interactive Approach. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Pub., 2000. 52. Print. ↩
  2. Lawhead, William F. The Philosophical Journey: An Interactive Approach. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Pub., 2000. 53. Print. ↩
  3. Lawhead, William F. The Philosophical Journey: An Interactive Approach. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Pub., 2000. 52. Print. ↩
  4. Nash, Ronald H. “History of Philosophy and Christian Thought: Early Greek Philosophers.” Apple (audio blog), November 9, 2010. https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/early-greek-philosophers/id403537295?i=88863458&mt=2. ↩
  5. Nash, Ronald H. “History of Philosophy and Christian Thought: Early Greek Philosophers.” Apple (audio blog), November 9, 2010. https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/early-greek-philosophers/id403537295?i=88863458&mt=2. ↩
  6. Nash, Ronald H. “History of Philosophy and Christian Thought: The Essence of Plato’s Philosophy.” Apple (audio blog) https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/essence-platos-philosophy/id403537295?i=88863473&mt=2 ↩
  7. Botton, Alain De, Benjamin Jowett, and M. J. Knight. The Essential Plato. New York: Quality Paperback Book Club, 1999. 616-17. ↩
  8. Nash, Ronald H. “History of Philosophy and Christian Thought: Aristotle and Dualism.” Apple (audio blog) https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/aristotle-and-dualism/id403537295?i=88863462&mt=2 ↩
  9. Lawhead, William F. The Philosophical Journey: An Interactive Approach. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Pub., 2000. 91. Print. ↩
  10. Robert Audi ed., The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. 240. ↩
  11. Nash, Ronald H. “History of Philosophy and Christian Thought: Augustine” Apple (audio blog) https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/augustine-01/id403537295?i=88863441&mt=2 ↩
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6 Ways NOT to Lose Your Christianity in the University Classroom (Video)

6 Ways NOT to Lose Your Christianity in the University Classroom

When you (or a son or daughter) go to college, will you lose your Christianity? The percentage of young people who abandon their faith while at college is debated. The numbers can be high depending on what research you look at. Ed Stetzer has written about this topic for Christianity Today. His work belies some of the hyperbole in this discussion[1]. I thank him for that.

While the numbers may not be as high as some have reported, Christians do face challenges to their faith at university. Parents don’t want their children to lose their Christianity, but they may not know what to do to prevent it.

6 Ways NOT to Lose Your Christianity in the University Classroom
Copyright: Frannyanne

Christians trying to remain faithful while at school may feel like they’re fighting uphill. In some respects this is just reflective of our culture, but I think there’s more to it. These battles are taking place during a liminal stage for the student. Merriam-Webster defines the word liminal this way: of, relating to, or being an intermediate state, phase, or condition[2]. From a psychological perspective, a liminal stage is one full of uncertainty and ambiguity. What better way to describe college? Can you imagine a more difficult time to try to answer life’s hardest questions?

Prepare to Lose Your Christianity

We’re concerned with how to prepare young people to handle objections to their faith. In 2009 Jim Warner Wallace (a former cold case detective) was interviewed by Lee Michaels and Jeff Shell. He said that we should present evidence to young people in much the same way you would to a jury[3]. These are young people who don’t accept the authority or credibility of the Bible. We’ve boiled down six specific steps students can take to prepare for college.

1. Study Worldviews

Life is lived in terms of “worldviews.” Ideas aren’t orphans and don’t exist in isolation. Worldview evaluation helps bring to light any internal inconsistencies one might have. First, believers should understand the Christian worldview. If they don’t understand what they believe, how can they truly have faith? Second, they should study the various non-christian worldviews. This may seem overwhelming, but it can be done. Worldviews can be grouped into categories and dealt with in bulk.

[Tweet “Life is lived in terms of “worldviews.” Ideas aren’t orphans and don’t exist in isolation. “]

2. Get Perspective

College lasts for a short time. It’s busy and often confusing. It may feel like you have to come to definite conclusions, but you don’t. Christianity has a historical pedigree that cannot be destroyed by a few college credits. College is not a panacea of truth. Once it’s over, life’s toughest questions will remain. You’ll have to answer them over and over again, even if only in your own thoughts.

[Tweet “Christianity has a historical pedigree that cannot be destroyed by a few college credits.”]

3. Pursue Truth

There is no dichotomy between education and Christianity. Christianity is the only worldview that can sustain a positive outlook on knowledge. Don’t fear truth. Truth will always lead to a deeper and more accurate faith. Believers may feel a tension between following the truth and what their faith tells them. However, the Christian worldview is lead by one who identified himself as “truth” itself. It is impossible that truth (properly understood) will lead away from God. So, pursue truth with courage in your heart and Christ in your sights.

[Tweet “There is no dichotomy between education and Christianity. Christianity is the only worldview that can sustain a positive outlook on knowledge.”]

4. Take a Stand

When I taught computer networking, I enjoyed when students asked questions or challenged me. It showed me that they were thinking. I don’t doubt some professors are authoritarian. Some may brook no dissension. That’s when courage is needed. Taking a stand for what you believe is one of the quickest ways to mature.

Rows of Chairs in a Laboratory Classroom
Harris and Ewing Collection in the Library of Congress

[Tweet “Taking a stand for what you believe is one of the quickest ways to mature.”]

5. Join a Church

Being a “lone wolf” may work in your favorite action movie, but as a strategy for life, it’s a bad bet. Christianity should be practiced in community. The members of the body of Christ help to balance each other out. Even students at a religious university can benefit from local church membership. Churches in a college town know to expect a flood of new and returning students each year. They may even have classes and programs designed around students’ busy schedules.

[Tweet “Being a “lone wolf” may work in your favorite action movie, but as a strategy for life, it’s a bad bet.”]

6. Be Humble

Humility is necessary in the pursuit of truth. This isn’t in contradiction to the fourth point above (Take a Stand). It’s the flip side of the coin. Humility and courage go hand in hand. Your beliefs and convictions may be challenged. Fellow students, professors, even the curriculum itself may make you uncomfortable. You won’t always be right. Pick your battles. Be willing to admit if you’re wrong. Refusing to give up faulty ground only makes you king of an imaginary hill.

[Tweet “Refusing to give up faulty ground only makes you king of an imaginary hill.”]

A Professor’s Perspective

Dr. Groothuis has worked for years in campus ministry. Now he’s the professor at Denver Seminary. I asked Dr. Douglas Groothuis, “How should we prepare young people for challenges to their faith in college?” This is what he said.

Video Transcript

Apologetics and Christian worldview and knowledge of the Bible should be taught in the home; and it should be taught rigorously in the church; and students going to college should be involved in classroom activity/classroom instruction to prepare them for the kind of onslaught that they’ll have to deal with, prepare them for the atheism, prepare them for the relativism, and so on.

This is very exigent because the statistics I’ve seen are pretty frightening and disheartening. So many Christians go to college and either deny their faith or put their faith on hold, and they don’t act like consistent Christians. Maybe ten years later when they have children they’ll go back to the church and get more serious. But the university and college shapes an individual decisively for life.

So Christians need to know what they believe and why as they go into these settings. So the church should have courses, study opportunities to prepare for college, parents should know what sorts of things their children should read and what kinds of seminars they should go to. And this needs to be very intentional, very serious because, otherwise, the students will very likely drift away from Christianity or become fideists and say, “I believe Christianity but it is not supported by anything I study and there’s really no evidence for it but somehow I believe it.” We don’t want that.

free-28min-video-of-apologetics


  1. Stetzer, Ed. “Dropouts and Disciples: How Many Students Are Really Leaving the Church?” Christianity Today. May 14, 2014. Accessed March 5, 2015. http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/may/dropouts-and-disciples-how-many-students-are-really-leaving.html.  ↩
  2. Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 2003.  ↩
  3. Wallace, Jim W. “How to Help Young People Learn to Defend the Faith.” Interview by Lee Michaels and Jeff Shell. The Cold-Case Christianity Radio Interview Podcast (audio blog), September 14, 2009. Accessed March 6, 2015. http://thepleaseconvincemeradioshowpodcast.libsyn.com/how-to-help-young-people-learn-to-defend-the-faith.  ↩