Tag Archives: High School

In addition to being asked questions about evil and suffering, and questions about the accuracy of the Bible (see the past couple posts), future college students face the challenge of tackling pluralism. How can they tell others that they are correct and the other’s beliefs are wrong? In a postmodern society, this is quite problematic. Using the Bible study below, you can provide the information that they need to answer the questions they are going to face once they start attending college.

HS BS on Pluralism and Postmodernism

Problems with pluralism basically fall under “let’s all try to get along and not offend each other.” These are silly because they’re artificial and assume that rational people can’t find a way to co-exist even believing radically different things (granted there’s plenty of evidence for and against that). It also presupposes that you can get to know the true me without understanding the most fundamental, important part of me, my religious beliefs; the same goes for Muslims, Jews, etc.

Other problems with Postmodernism generally concern our inability to know or understand truth. This is due to cultural predispositions we can do nothing to filter out, and the intrinsic difficulty of the reliability of knowledge. These objections ultimately turn on themselves (for the most part), since some knowledge is needed to argue that there’s no knowledge, some truth to argue that there’s no truth, etc, and eventually any foundation will lead you back to God.

  1. Pluralism/Postmodernism: How can you possibly say that there’s only one religion? Isn’t that hopelessly close-minded and hurtful to other religions? Isn’t it arrogant, I mean, how would you really know?
    1. All religions are equally valid, or every road leads to God.
      1. How could you possibly know that unless you are God?
        1. Two parables are commonly offered in support of this; both of these require that the teller has true sight!
          1. The mountain: All religions are like people taking different paths to the top of a mountain. The paths are different, but the destination, God or the mountain top, is the same.
          2. The elephant: Different religions are like a group of blind men touching an elephant; one touches the trunk and says it’s a rope, one touches the leg and says it a tree, one touches the ear and says it’s a fan, but all just know a part of the elephant.
        2. These parables require that the teller is not blind, or is hovering above the mountain, so aren’t quite as humble as they seem. Why aren’t you (the teller) blind? Have you (the teller) alone ascended to the top of the mountain by every path?
      2. This view offends pretty much anyone with deeply held traditional religious convictions, from Muslims to Hindus, because it trivializes authentic differences in different religions. (although less so Hindus perhaps, and Jews have a similar parable)
    2. There is no one true religion
      1. Except the “one true religion” you’re pushing? You couldn’t know that, it’s a faith statement, and you’re proselytizing for your faith. In other words, you’re asking me to believe a faith statement, that there is no one true faith, as a “one true faith” that is above all others!
      2. Similarly, the statement that there is no absolute truth is self-defeating
        1. Example: There is no absolute truth (except what I just said).
    3. It’s arrogant for Christians to believe that they have the only way.
      1. Oh really? And it’s not arrogant to believe what you believe? Don’t you think that the only appropriate way to believe is that you don’t have the only way? In point of fact, what a Christian believes is humble. The Christian’s life would be infinitely easier to just believe what everyone else does. The reason we don’t is because it’s what the Bible says, and we’ve made a commitment to trust God and trust the Bible.
      2. All faiths at one point or another are exclusive in what they believe; that is, either they’re right and everyone else is wrong, or not. Islam is every bit as exclusive as Christianity, Judaism believes in one God alone, Hinduism holds firmly to the Vedic texts, and Buddhism holds that karma and reincarnation are the only possible explanations for suffering.
    4. Believing you have the “one true faith” is extremely dangerous; this is where war, terrorism and world strife (like the Israeli conflict) come from.
      1. Do you believe that the world would be a better place if everyone believed exactly what you believe? Are you moving towards that end with this conversation? Then how is this different than what you say Christians do?
      2. Everyone has certain fundamental faith assumptions, everyone. The question then becomes not, “Does fundamentalism cause violence?” but “Which fundamentals cause violence?” There’s a much larger case to be made for atheism causing violence from Evolution and from Marxism than could every be made for all the religions of the world put together.
        1. And what are the fundamentals of Christianity? Grace, peace, forgiveness, a God who died in order to make peace with the world and forgive us our sins. What would those fundamentals make you more like?
      3. You can’t know me as I really am without my faith, and knowing and understanding others is where real peace comes from.
    5. Religion should be kept outside of the public square, because it is divisive and secular values everyone can agree on.
      1. This statement itself is divisive and not something everyone can agree on. Secular values, again, are quite controversial and not something everyone can agree on (eg, abortion).
      2. Illustration of this in Reason for God, p. 16
    6. Cultural relativism: you believe what you believe because you were born where you were born. If you hadn’t been born into a Christian household, you wouldn’t be a believer.
      1. If you hadn’t been born into a liberal Western household, you wouldn’t be an atheist. Does this mean your atheism was the result of an unreliable set of cultural norms? This argument is self defeating. So what if I was born in a Christian household? Literally millions of people believe what I believe and were raised atheists in China, or spirit worshipers in Africa, etc etc.
    7. God is basically love” or “Isn’t love really what all religions have in common? Why shouldn’t we just love each other and call it a day?”
      1. This view is horribly insensitive to other religions and cultures, and is pretty much unique to the West. This is a Christian idea and to tell a Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist (some of which don’t even believe in God(s)) that “God is basically love” would flip them out.
    8. It’s well and fine to believe, but you must keep these beliefs to yourself. Don’t push your religion onto others!
      1. Isn’t that what you’re doing when you tell me not to talk about my faith? You have a certain view of God, and that motivates you to tell me to keep mine to myself. How is what you’re doing any different than what I’m doing?
      2. Also, you can’t possibly know me as I am without the most central part of me, my religious beliefs.
    9. It’s ok that people believed stuff like this back in the day, but by modern standards, we have so many different religions that this sort of claim is rude and it just won’t fly.
      1. It didn’t fly back in the day either. The Roman world was (if possible) even more pluralistic than our own, and yes, Christians made no friends by claiming exclusivity.

Bibliography:

Reason for God by Tim Keller

Case for Faith by Lee Strobel

As I mentioned in the last post, teaching high school Bible studies can be tricky. Here is another in depth high school Bible study for you to use. Evil and suffering are difficult topics for everyone, and are another topic that Christian college students are often asked about. Why does God allow war? How can there be a God if children are starving in Africa? How can you believe in a God that allows things like the Holocaust to occur? Many of the students sitting in your youth group are probably wondering about these questions. Use the Bible study below as a starting place for your own and give students answers to these difficult questions.

High School Bible Study on Evil and Suffering

  1. Evil and suffering: How can a good, all powerful God allow suffering?
    1. Either God is not all good (he can help, but he doesn’t care to), or he’s not all powerful (he’d like to help but he can’t).
    2. When you say that if God hasn’t gotten rid of evil he doesn’t exist, what you’re really saying, “he can’t have a reason I haven’t thought of”
      1. If God was good, he’d stop it, what they mean is I don’t think there’s a good reason for evil, no greater good.
    3. Theodicy (defense of God) – reasons for evil
      1. Punishment – If we did it to ourselves, does God have an obligation to help us?
        1. Like a kid will ruin your car if you give him the keys, we ruined the earth
        2. If someone says, “I just can’t believe in a God that would allow evil”, reply “What do you think the human race deserves from God?” They’re assuming that God owes us a better life than we have. Maybe the problem with evil is why God allows so much happiness.
        3. The problem with this, of course, is that good people suffer and evil people don’t. It’s not that there’s suffering, it’s that it seems to be unfairly distributed.
      2. Free Will – If God wanted us to be truly free in our choice, we’re not robots, so we have to have the possibility of evil. So the greater good that God is allowing is Free Will, and evil and suffering is just the way we get there.
        1. The problem again is that there’s not a fair distribution of evil.
        2. Another problem is that free will isn’t a greater good than salvation; (not just because I’m a Calvinist)
          1. What if your son crosses the street, even when you told him not to, what do you do? Let him exercise his free will in rebelling against you and die, or run into the street and rescue him?
      3. Natural Law – have to have some orderliness to nature… you reap what you sow or we just can’t live life
        1. Same problems as above
      4. So a lot of the evil that we blame on God can actually be traced to us.
        1. Even hurricanes and landslides etc are attributable to sin: the people who die in those places are the poor, those who can’t afford to live in a safe place. How many rich people die in disasters like that? Earthquakes in Turkey vs earthquakes here, for instance.
          1. Or hurricanes; people choose to live on the coast knowing full well that hurricanes are a certainty, not a possibility.
      5. Ultimately these solutions are not good enough.
        1. Don’t tell someone who’s suffering these things
        2. Watch telling yourself these things, because sometimes it’s going to fail you (eg, is there possibly ever a big enough reason for a child to die? If they grew up to be Hitler… not much comfort.)
    4. It’s a mistake to use theodicy. Instead, say you don’t know the reason for suffering. It’s a mistake to assume that because you can’t think of a reason for suffering that there isn’t one.
      1. I look inside my tent and don’t see a Great Dane; so it’s very likely there’s not one in my tent. I look again and don’t see any fleas. Does that mean it’s likely that there aren’t any fleas in there?
      2. If it is likely that if God has a reason, would we be the first to know about it? Would we be able to think on the level of God? If there is a reason for allowing suffering and evil to continue, the one who would know is God.
      3. If there might be a reason for suffering that we don’t know, then it’s quite possible that an all powerful and all good God exists.
    5. Most philosophers you’re going to run into in Phil 101 are making this mistake, assuming that because they can’t think of a good reason for evil, one can’t exist.
      1. Alvin Plantinga shows this.
      2. There’s no longer a firm consensus that evil and suffering disprove the Christian God
    6. On the other hand, evil and suffering also prove God’s existence.
      1. If we just evolved, what is evil? It just doesn’t exist. Evil only exists if there is a moral law, and there can only be a moral law if there is a moral law-giver. Evolution can say advantageous vs disadvantageous, but the strong naturally eat the weak. If you know that’s just wrong for societies or people though, then where does that come from?
      2. Appalling wickedness actually creates a bigger problem for those who don’t believe in God than for those who do, for the one who doesn’t believe in God doesn’t even have a basis for being appalled.
    7. Summary: If you have a God great enough to be mad at for evil and suffering, you also have to have a God who is smart enough to have reasons for allowing it that you can’t guess.
      1. Careful doing this sort of stuff with a friend who doubts. It’s ok to ask Qs that get them thinking, but not ok to cram your thinking down their throats (just because I don’t think it works)
    8. Christianity’s explanation of suffering is still better than anyone else’s. We are the only religion with a suffering God. This is the personal response to a friend.
      1. Secular: why should suffering bother you? The strong should eat the weak, and there’s literally nothing but a gaping hole to hang your dislike for suffering on; moral relativism isn’t much of a basis for action (or coping). How can you address suffering or injustice if the oppressor’s point of view is equally valid?
      2. Eastern: Hinduism and Buddhism both apply Karma (I think), which blames the victim for their suffering, and encourages turning a blind eye (not forcefully but accidentally…). Also God is impersonal and doesn’t suffer, and suffering is an illusion, not something real.
      3. Judaism and Islam: God is above it all, though concerned with suffering;
      4. Only in Christianity does God actually suffer with us. What better response to suffering could there be, other than eradicating it, than suffering with someone? Christ suffering shows that God is willing to suffer with us, and that suffering is a huge problem that he can’t just snap his fingers and make it go away (without making us go away at the same time).
        1. Oh, and by the way, the plan all along was to eventually eradicate suffering!

When you say that if God hasn’t gotten rid of evil he doesn’t exist, what you’re really saying, “he can’t have a reason I haven’t thought of”

      1. If God was good, he’d stop it, what they mean is I don’t think there’s a good reason for evil, no greater good.
    1. Theodicy (defense of God) – reasons for evil
      1. Punishment – If we did it to ourselves, does God have an obligation to help us?
        1. Like a kid will ruin your car if you give him the keys, we ruined the earth
        2. If someone says, “I just can’t believe in a God that would allow evil”, reply “What do you think the human race deserves from God?” They’re assuming that God owes us a better life than we have. Maybe the problem with evil is why God allows so much happiness.
        3. The problem with this, of course, is that good people suffer and evil people don’t. It’s not that there’s suffering, it’s that it seems to be unfairly distributed.
      2. Free Will – If God wanted us to be truly free in our choice, we’re not robots, so we have to have the possibility of evil. So the greater good that God is allowing is Free Will, and evil and suffering is just the way we get there.
        1. The problem again is that there’s not a fair distribution of evil.
        2. Another problem is that free will isn’t a greater good than salvation; (not just because I’m a Calvinist)
          1. What if your son crosses the street, even when you told him not to, what do you do? Let him exercise his free will in rebelling against you and die, or run into the street and rescue him?
      3. Natural Law – have to have some orderliness to nature… you reap what you sow or we just can’t live life
        1. Same problems as above
      4. So a lot of the evil that we blame on God can actually be traced to us.
        1. Even hurricanes and landslides etc are attributable to sin: the people who die in those places are the poor, those who can’t afford to live in a safe place. How many rich people die in disasters like that? Earthquakes in Turkey vs earthquakes here, for instance.
          1. Or hurricanes; people choose to live on the coast knowing full well that hurricanes are a certainty, not a possibility.
      5. Ultimately these solutions are not good enough.
        1. Don’t tell someone who’s suffering these things
        2. Watch telling yourself these things, because sometimes it’s going to fail you (eg, is there possibly ever a big enough reason for a child to die? If they grew up to be Hitler… not much comfort.)
    2. It’s a mistake to use theodicy. Instead, say you don’t know the reason for suffering. It’s a mistake to assume that because you can’t think of a reason for suffering that there isn’t one.
      1. I look inside my tent and don’t see a Great Dane; so it’s very likely there’s not one in my tent. I look again and don’t see any fleas. Does that mean it’s likely that there aren’t any fleas in there?
      2. If it is likely that if God has a reason, would we be the first to know about it? Would we be able to think on the level of God? If there is a reason for allowing suffering and evil to continue, the one who would know is God.
      3. If there might be a reason for suffering that we don’t know, then it’s quite possible that an all powerful and all good God exists.
    3. Most philosophers you’re going to run into in Phil 101 are making this mistake, assuming that because they can’t think of a good reason for evil, one can’t exist.
      1. Alvin Plantinga shows this.
      2. There’s no longer a firm consensus that evil and suffering disprove the Christian God
    4. On the other hand, evil and suffering also prove God’s existence.
      1. If we just evolved, what is evil? It just doesn’t exist. Evil only exists if there is a moral law, and there can only be a moral law if there is a moral law-giver. Evolution can say advantageous vs disadvantageous, but the strong naturally eat the weak. If you know that’s just wrong for societies or people though, then where does that come from?
      2. Appalling wickedness actually creates a bigger problem for those who don’t believe in God than for those who do, for the one who doesn’t believe in God doesn’t even have a basis for being appalled.
    5. Summary: If you have a God great enough to be mad at for evil and suffering, you also have to have a God who is smart enough to have reasons for allowing it that you can’t guess.
      1. Careful doing this sort of stuff with a friend who doubts. It’s ok to ask Qs that get them thinking, but not ok to cram your thinking down their throats (just because I don’t think it works)
    6. Christianity’s explanation of suffering is still better than anyone else’s. We are the only religion with a suffering God. This is the personal response to a friend.
      1. Secular: why should suffering bother you? The strong should eat the weak, and there’s literally nothing but a gaping hole to hang your dislike for suffering on; moral relativism isn’t much of a basis for action (or coping). How can you address suffering or injustice if the oppressor’s point of view is equally valid?
      2. Eastern: Hinduism and Buddhism both apply Karma (I think), which blames the victim for their suffering, and encourages turning a blind eye (not forcefully but accidentally…). Also God is impersonal and doesn’t suffer, and suffering is an illusion, not something real.
      3. Judaism and Islam: God is above it all, though concerned with suffering;
      4. Only in Christianity does God actually suffer with us. What better response to suffering could there be, other than eradicating it, than suffering with someone? Christ suffering shows that God is willing to suffer with us, and that suffering is a huge problem that he can’t just snap his fingers and make it go away (without making us go away at the same time).
        1. Oh, and by the way, the plan all along was to eventually eradicate suffering!

Teaching youth can be a difficult task for any Bible study leader. Selecting an relevant topic is the first step. This Bible study is perfect for a group of high school juniors and seniors who are planning on attending college. Many Christian college students end up having their faith questioned or challenged, so preparing them for this possibility is an important task. Use this Bible study as a starting place for your own!

High School Bible Study on Biblical Criticism

  1. Historical/Literary Criticism: The Bible is untrustworthy.
    1. This is stuff that you will encounter in some religion classes you take, and is certainly in the air at most American colleges.
    2. The objections to the Bible’s reliability fall into one of a few main categories:
      1. The transmission of the text is unreliable; Jesus didn’t really say what the disciples say he did, the Old Testament likewise is hard to rely on.
        1. Documentary Hypothesis (DH)
          1. The DH basically says that the first 5 books of the Bible as we have them today were written in the 7th century BC from a variety of sources, notably a northern tribes edition of the Bible (E), a Judah specific version (J), a Josiah era writer (D) and a priestly writer who put the final pieces together and tried to legitimize his class (P).
          2. Archeology disproves the timing and assumptions of this theory
          3. Deuteronomy, which for the DH to be true had to have been written about 621 BC, shows evidence of being written much much earlier
            1. Talked about desert life rather than farming life
            2. Didn’t mention at all very important places like Jerusalem, Shiloh, Ramah, which existed later but not when the book itself claims to have been written.
          4. The sources overlap so much (100s of verses are said to have different sources) that it’s difficult to imagine how they made something of such lasting value as the Bible by cutting and pasting
          5. The sources also contradict each other by using the “wrong” names (YHWH or Elohim) in several spots. These are claimed to be “mistakes” or literary freedom of the redactors by DH folks, but this is a call to miracles and really shows that the theory breaks down under too close scrutiny.
        2. The copyists altered portions of the text in response to controversies of their day to gain favor for their side
          1. For instance the P writer of the Documentary Hypothesis, or arguments about the role of women in the NT, etc.
          2. That this doesn’t occur is easy to show false from the copious instances where the Bible includes very inconvenient facts, like Peter’s denial or Jesus’ “My God My God” statement from the cross, and especially as it fails to address topics directly that were of obvious concern to the writers of the day
            1. Eg, In the Gospels, Jesus never said word one about eating meat sacrificed to idols, even though it was one of the major controversies of the early church.
        3. Over such long periods of time we don’t have any idea what the original text really looked like.
          1. Dead Sea Scrolls disproved this
            1. 50 years ago, everyone thought we were going to be rewriting our Bibles, but that turned out to be nonsense; the Dead Sea Scrolls are almost identical to what we already have, save for things like prepositions, alternate spellings, articles (a, the, etc) and conjunctions.
          2. Science of Biblical Literary Criticism also disproves this; we have about 99% confidence in our current text, and no major doctrines are in that 1% we’re not absolutely sure of.
          3. There is more certainty of what the Bible says than of any other book in antiquity.
        4. The presence of miracles in the New Testament indicates that these are just legends.
          1. Not so, since they were written within a generation of the events. It would be like me saying Richard Nixon shot fireballs from his butt. Easy to disprove.
            1. Paul quotes Jesus, Peter quotes Paul, etc.
            2. 1 Cor 15, written very close to the events, describes hundreds of eyewitnesses to the Resurrection
          2. Either someone without antecedent or follower anticipated the modern style of novelistic fiction, or this was intended to be read as history, not legend or myth or fiction.
          3. Eyewitness accounts, carbon dating also date the Gospels to be within a generation of the events.
      2. The selection of books included in the Bible was biased
        1. The Gnostic Gospels (Judas, Thomas, etc)
          1. Jesus seminar, Dan Brown, etc rely on these books to show us a supposedly more historical Jesus
          2. They were written hundreds of years after the fact, far away from the original events, and cite no eyewitness accounts, etc.
            1. A document disputing the revolutionary war written in 1850 in Ohio has about as much force.
      3. The text of the Bible itself is unreliable
        1. Depiction of miracles; we’ll cover this one later, but basically it just assumes that miracles aren’t possible, which isn’t really an argument.
        2. Historical inaccuracies
          1. No historical evidence in Egypt for the exedous (would you build a monument to that debacle?)
          2. In general doesn’t match the archeological record (Jerico, etc)
            1. Settling of Israel not all at once
            2. There was a claim that there were no Hittites
              1. Found ‘em, actually.
            3. Claims about the New Testament not matching the archeological record have been shown false in the past, and there’s never been evidence found that contradicts the Biblical account (although some things are lacking, that’s not a great argument).
          3. No mention of Jesus outside of Bible (false)
            1. Simply foolish; Christianity didn’t come out of a vacuum.
            2. There is more evidence for Jesus than any other founder of a world religion. Facts such as Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and followers’ belief that he was God are documented in many sources outside of the Bible.
          4. No Adam, Abraham, Isaac or Jacob.
            1. Some of those stories are repeated
            2. No historical evidence, these stories were made up to create a false sense of national identity around the time of David (of course there’s also no reliable historical evidence for this argument)
        3. The disciples made it all up to create a cult
          1. Would be the first time that was successful
          2. Rather than personally benefiting, they all were put to death, every one, and all they had to do to save themselves was admit it was a lie
          3. Historical Jesus nonsense
            1. A hundred years or so ago it was very popular to go back supposedly beyond the Bible to look at the “evidence” and filter out the Disciples’ propaganda, and discover the “real” Jesus. Turns out there were as many vastly different “historical Jesus”es as there were authors, and each Jesus reflected greatly the biases and agendas of the authors.
          4. Resurrection didn’t really happen.
            1. Popular Dan Brown novels.
            2. 1 Cor 15 happened so close to the date, it couldn’t have been faked (again, like me saying Nixon was Black)
            3. First witnesses were women; if you’re making it up, the first witness would have been the High Priest or maybe Nicodemus
            4. None of Christianity’s ancient critics (Jews and Romans) claimed that Jesus was still in his tomb.
            5. Disciples died for it, even Paul and James, who were skeptics
            6. Can you come up with another historically plausible explanation for the existence of the church? I didn’t think so.
          5. Gospels don’t agree on the details, so they can’t be true
            1. This is what you’d expect if they’re coming from different, real, eyewitness accounts (ever do that “what color was the thief wearing” experiment?)
            2. Also, they agree on the substantive details: Jesus thought he was God, died unfairly on the cross, and came back to life
    3. Resources:
      1. The Case for Christ, Lee Strobel
      2. Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis
      3. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, William Lane Craig
    4. Point by point refutations:
      1. Why not circumcision or eating meat sacrificed to idols? These were clearly hotly contested items of the day
        1. By the way, people do this today. We “reinterpret” the meaning of the Bible in ways that bolster our own positions rather than being faithful to what was said.