Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Psychological Apologetics Resources


Psychological apologetics is a unique field that focuses on using and applying psychological sciences (which really includes all social and cognitive sciences) for apologetics. Very few people do work that could be considered psychological apologetics, especially if excluding people or works that are explicitly in the realm of psychological apologetics. If you want to get started in psychological apologetics, there aren't really any single sources you can pick up to get started. Instead, you need to piece together information from a variety of resources so you can become knowledgeable in both subjects, psychology and apologetics.

I've categorized the books by sub-genre rather than recommended reading order. However, I do provide a recommended order at the bottom of the page and I've classified the books into general tiers of relevance and/or importance for psychological apologetics. Here is what the tiers mean.

  1. Very relevant/important
  2. Relevant/important
  3. Somewhat relevant/important or overlaps content of books rated higher
  4. Least relevant/important or I just don't know much about the book.

While this list is pretty long, it's nowhere near exhaustive, especially considering all the books out there that focus on the integration of psychology or counseling with and theology. I included some of the more current ones, but there is so much more out there. Also, it should go without saying that I do not agree with everything in all the books, but some of them I think are relevant for the field. If you think I missed any important books, want more specific suggestions, or have any other comments, please contact me here

Psychological Apologetics Books

The books in this section are the closest thing that could be considered psychological apologetics without having to piece together resources from various other places. I listed this section first to highlight the sub-genre of psychological apologetics so don't be surprised that these books aren't recommended as first reads. These books only cover a narrow scope of the possible topics that fall under the umbrella of psychological apologetics.

#2. The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous by Joseph Henrich (Ph.D.), who's an atheist psychologist. Ironically, this book arguably makes the best case for Christianity from social sciences than any other. The author recognizes this and explicitly states that the data is not an argument for Christianity, but it is. In short, if Christianity is true, what the book reports to have happened is what would be expected. The book talks about the historical factors the led to the development of modern, Western society, and while there are multiple factors involved, the main factor is Christian sexual ethics and the Church's teachings efforts to spread those teachings.

#2. Complex Simplicity: How PsychologySuggests Atheists are Wrong about Christianity by Luke Conway (Ph.D.), who's a social psychologist and Christian apologist. I haven't read this book yet (but don't tell Luke because I told him I would a while back) but this is really the only book by a psychologist that focuses on using psychology for arguments for Christianity. I am feeling more convicted now that I haven't read it yet so I will probably do that very soon now.

#2. Born Believers: The Science of Children's Religious Belief and #2. Why Would Anyone Believe in God? by Justin Barrett (Ph.D.), who's a Christian cognitive evolutionary psychologist. I haven't read these books, but I've read a lot of Barrett's academic works. My understanding of these books is that he makes the case that humans are biologically predisposed to believe in God, and therefore, it is psychologically healthy to do so. 

#3. Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism by Paul Vitz (Ph.D.), who's a Christian psychologist. In this book, which I also haven't read yet, he is responding to the Freudian critique that belief in God serves as a replacement for having a poor or non-existent relationship with a person's biological father. My understanding of the book and Vitz's position is that the opposite appears to be true, that people who have a poor or non-existent relationship with their father are more likely to be atheists.


Effective Persuasion for Apologetics and Evangelism

Perhaps the biggest gap in apologetics literature is the absence of evidence-based strategies for doing apologetics. There are some apologetics books that discuss this, and some do it fairly well, but they don't really go into the science behind effective persuasion methods or give a broad range of practical methods. The books listed are not Christian books and as far I know, only Carnegie is a Christian, but the strategies in these books are easy to apply to apologetics and evangelism.

#1. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion and #2. Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade by Robert Cialdini (Ph.D.), who's a social psychologist and perhaps the foremost expert on persuasion methods. His work is widely used and cited for sales and marketing. Influence is the absolute single best book I know of for understanding how persuasion works.

#2. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. This book is a classic and for good reason. I put off reading it for the longest time because I thought it would have little to teach me and little modern relevance. I was dead wrong. This book is a very practical guide for how to effectively influence people without being manipulative.

#3. Getting to Yes and #3. Getting Past NoThe first is by Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton and the second is just by Ury. These books are essential reading in many business programs. These are excellent resources for learning how to negotiate with others, especially in a way that maintains long-term relationships.

#1. Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions by Greg Koukl (M.A.), who's a well-known Christian apologist. This is one of the few apologetics books that explicitly focuses on how to do apologetics and evangelism more effectively. It's a great book but it doesn't really get into the underlying reasons why some of the methods work. Instead, it focuses on more practical aspects of how to use the tools discussed. I recommend people read this one as a model for how to have conversations about faith to create a schema for applying the lessons from the other books in this section to evangelism and apologetics.

#2. Relational Apologetics: Defending the Christian Faith with Holiness, Respect, and Truth by Michael Sherrard (M.Div.), who's a pastor and apologist. This is another one of the rare apologetics books that focuses on more effective methods for doing apologetics and evangelism. While it's not a psychological book, it does apply psychological principles well. 

Bias, Reasoning, and Decision Making

If you want to understand how to do apologetics effectively, you have to understand the way in which people make decisions and the variety of biases that affect our reasoning processes. In short, people are not nearly as rational as we often think they are. These books reveal a ton of ways in which our minds make mental shortcuts, often leading to false conclusions, and how we can overcome them. These books are not Christian books and as far as I know, none of the authors are Christians. While initially it may seem like these biases apply to religious belief, they apply equally to why people belief atheism is true.

#1. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (Ph.D.), who's a cognitive psychologist and noble prize winner in economics because his work was essential for the field of behavioral economics. This is the essential book for understanding decision 

#1. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt (Ph.D.), who's a social psychologist that focuses on moral reasoning. This book will help you understand how people make moral decisions. This is relevant because moral beliefs strongly influence religious and political beliefs. His other book, The Coddling of the American Mind, is also pretty good but not nearly as relevant for psychological apologetics.

#2. Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mahzarin Banaji (Ph.D.) and Anthony Greenwald (Ph.D.), who are psychologists that focus on basically what the title of the book is. Most of this book focuses on blindspots when it comes to race and sex, but it's highly relevant for psychological apologetics because the mental processes they discuss apply to a broad range of topics.

#2. The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less by Barry Schwartz (Ph.D.), who's a psychologist that focuses on decision making. This book makes the point that having more choices isn't always good for us psychologically and often leads to less than optimal choices. It's very relevant in a society where people have lots of religious, political, and moral choices. 

#2. The Mind Club: Who Thinks, What Feels, and Why It Matters by Daniel Wegner (Ph.D.) and Kurt Gray (Ph.D.), who are social psychologists that study consciousness and choice, amongst other things. The book talks about some of the underlying factors that affect our moral decisions.

#3. Nudge: Improving Decisions About Money, Health, and the Environment by Richar Thaler (Ph.D.), who's a Nobel-winning economist. This book discussing how small, often unnoticeable factors affect our decision-making.

#3. Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely (Ph.D.), who's a cognitive psychologist. This book is similar to Thinking, Fast and Slow, but it's shorter and explains slightly different ways in which people make irrational decisions. It's a great book that's very enjoyable to read, but I would consider this book more of a second-tier book for psychological apologetics.

Sexuality and Gender

Sex, sexuality, and gender are probably the relevant social topics for Christians in our culture. My knowledge of the subject comes from more academic sources (the sources often cited by these books) so I am not very familiar with these books or authors, but from what I do know about the authors, they are respectable.  

#2. People to Be Loved: Why HomosexualityIs Not Just an Issue, #2. Living in a Gray World: A ChristianTeen’s Guide to Understanding Homosexuality, and #2. Embodied: Transgender Identities,the Church, and What the Bible Has to Say by Preston Sprinkle, who's a theologian (Ph.D.) that focuses mostly on topics related to sexuality and gender. I haven't read any of these books, but I have listened to several hours of his podcasts and YouTube videos. The guy knows what he is talking about and has a wonderful ability to engage difficult topics with love and respect.

#2. Is God anti-gay? and #2. Why does God care who I sleep with? by Sam Allberry, who's a pastor and apologist who experiences same-sex attraction. I haven't read these books and have limited experience with Sam's work. From the little experience I do have with Sam's work, he seems to be reasonable, knowledgeable, and compassionate.

#2. Holy Sexuality and the Gospel: Sex, Desire, and Relationships Shaped by God's Grand Story, #3. Out of a Far Country: A Gay Son's Journey to God. A Broken Mother's Search for Hope, by Christopher Yuan, who's a theologian (Ph.D.) who experiences same-sex attraction. I haven't read either book and don't have much experience with Yuan's work.

#2. Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture, #2. Emerging Gender Identities: Understanding the Diverse Experiences of Today's Youth, #2. Homosexuality and the Christian: AGuide for Parents, Pastors, and Friends by Mark Yarhouse, who's a Christian clinical psychologist. I haven't read these books yet and am not very familiar with Yarhouse's work so I have no comments to add about these books.

#2. The End of Gender: Debunking the Myths about Sex and Identity in Our Society by Debora Soh (Ph.D.), who's a neuroscientist who focuses her research on sex and gender. She is not a Christian and is quite liberal, but she still has some concerns about some of the activism around gender. I haven't read this book so I don' t have much to say on it, but you can read this review of it by Preston Sprinkle.

#3. Surfing for God: Discovering the Divine Desire Beneath Sexual Struggle by Michael John Cusick (M.A. x2), who's a Christian licensed professional counselor. I haven't read this book yet, but from my understanding, it's about the negative effects of porn on people who use it. This is relevant for apologetics because most Christians would agree that porn violates biblical morality and so we should expect negative side effects when we engage in it.

#3. Hooked: The Brain Science on How Casual Sex Affects Human Development by Joe McIlhaney (MD) and Freda Mckissic (MD), who are both obstetrician/gynecologists. I don't know if they are Christians or not, but I suspect they are. I have browsed a few sections of the first edition of this book, but I've never read the whole thing. Essentially, this book discusses the scientific evidence that casual sex or sex with multiple partners does not lead to better outcomes in life.

#4. Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters by Abigail Shrier, who's a journalist and not a Christian. I haven't read this book so I don't have much to say about it, but if you want to know more, you can read this review of it by Preston Sprinkle.

#4. This is Your Brain on Sex: The Science Behind the Search for Love by Kayt Sukel (M.S.), who's a science writer and as far as I know, she's not a Christian. She might be, but her Twitter account had quite a few posts the suggest she's probably not. I haven't read this book and know very little about it, but I do want to read it. I included this book because, for the most part, the science of sex supports what the Bible teaches about sex, although there are some people who twist or ignore some of the science to argue otherwise. 


Christian Psychology Books

#2. The Biology of Sin: Grace, Hope and Healing for Those Who Feel Trapped by Matthew Stanford (Ph.D.), who's a behavioral neuroscientist. I've read most or all of this book and it's a good explanation of the biological factors that affect our psychology, both of which affect our propensity to sin.

#3. Thriving with Stone Age Minds: Evolutionary Psychology, Christian Faith, and the Quest for Human Flourishing by Justin Barrett (mentioned above) and Pamela Ebstyne-King (Ph.D.), who's a developmental and positive psychologist. Both authors are Christians and in this book, they make the case that humans' ability to be social, get and use information, and exhibit self-control are what makes us unique. Based on these traits, we can make hypotheses about human flourishing, and when we do that, they align with the Bible and the science supports these traits so far. This book is a good introduction to evolutionary psychology and is a good place to start if you want to know more about that field.

#3. Enhancing the Christian Life: How Extended Cognition Augments Religious Community and #3. The Physical Nature of Christian Life: Neuroscience, Psychology, And The Church by Brad Strawn (Ph.D.) and Warren Brown (Ph.D.), who are Christian psychologists. I haven't read either book yet but they're on my shortlist to do soon.

#3. The Buddha Pill: Can Meditation Change You? by Miguel Farias (Ph.D.) and Catherine Wikholm (Ph.D.), who are clinical psychologists. Farias is Catholic but I don't know if Wikholm is a Christian. I haven't read this book, but from my understanding of it, they argue that meditation and mindfulness are not all they're cracked up to be and can have negative consequences. I'm hesitant to put this book on this list until I've read it because I'm concerned they might oversimplify the research to promote their view, but I can't condemn them for that since I haven't actually read the book yet.

#3. Positive Psychology in Christian Perspective: Foundations, Concepts, and Applications by Charles Hackney (Ph.D.), who's a Christian social psychologist that focuses on positive psychology.

#3. The Science of Virtue: Why Positive Psychology Matters to the Church by Mark McMinn (Ph.D.), who's a Christian clinical psychologist. 

#3. Forgiveness and Reconciliation: Theory and Application by Everett Worthington (Ph.D.), who's a Christian social psychologist.

#3. The Psychology of Gratitude edited by Robert Emmons (Ph.D.) and Michael McCullough (Ph.D.). Technically, this is not a Christian book, but many of the authors in it are Christians, including the editors, and the research on gratitude generally aligns with Christian theology.

#3. Psychological Insight in the Bible: Texts and Readings by Wayne Rollins (Ph.D.) and Andrew Kille (Ph.D.), who are theologians. I haven't read this book or spent much time looking through it, but it's potentially very useful. My concern is that neither author has a psychology degree, which makes it more likely they will misunderstand the science of psychology in their work.


Integrating Psychology and Christianity

What seems to be the biggest topic of discussion about psychology is how to integrate it into theology. These are just some of the books that tackle that subject. To be honest, I'm not sure it's necessary to read a whole book on it, especially since so many of them get bogged down by abstract conflicts that may or may not be relevant or are probably not due to worldview differences at all. If you want to save the trouble, here's my article on the need (or lack of) for Christian psychology

#3. The Integration of Psychology and Christianity: A Domain-Based Approach by William Hathaway (Ph.D.) and Mark Yarhouse. I haven't read this book yet (it only came out a month ago) but am really looking forward to it. The approach they take based on the table of contents seems like it will be really helpful for being trying to gain a better understanding of integration.

#3. Coming to Peace with Psychology: What Christians Can Learn from Psychological Science by Everett Worthington (Ph.D.), who's a Christian clinical and social psychologist. It's been a long time since I read this book so I don't have much to say on it. I recall having a generally positive view of it so it will likely be a good introduction to psychology for people who don't know the field very well.

#4. Psychology through the Eyes of Faith by David Myers (Ph.D.) and Malcolm Jeeves (Ph.D.). I haven't read this book yet. Myers is a Christian, although many reading this might consider him too liberal, but he is a well-known social psychologist who's written many textbooks. I'm fairly sure Jeeves is a Christian, but I don't know a ton about him other than he writes a lot on the intersection of psychology and Christianity.

#4. Integrative Approaches to Psychology and Christianity, 3rd edition: An Introduction to Worldview Issues, Philosophical Foundations, and Models of Integration by David Entwistle (Psy.D.), who's a clinical psychologist and appears to be a Christian. I haven't read this book yet, but I have it on my shelf and plan to read it.

#4. Psychology and Christianity: FiveViews edited by Eric Johnson (Ph.D.). I put this book here because it's relevant, at least on the surface, but it was disappointing. You can read my review of it here.


Clinical or Counseling Psychology

#4. Skills for Effective Counseling: A Faith-Based Integration by Elisabeth Nesbit Sbanotto (Ph.D.), Heather Davediuk Gingrich (Ph.D.), and Fred Gingrich (D.Min.), who are Christian counselors. This is a skills-based book so the typical arguments over how to integrate psychology and theology can be set aside for this one. Psychologists are great at talking to people and this book teaches methods psychologists use that can be applied to effective apologetics and evangelism.

#4. Grace for the Afflicted: A Clinical and Biblical Perspective on Mental Illness by Matthew Stanford (Ph.D.)

#4. Psychology, Theology, and Spirituality in Christian Counseling by Mark McMinn (Ph.D.), who's a Christian clinical psychologist. 

#4. Sexuality and Sex Therapy: A Comprehensive Christian Appraisal by Mark Yarhouse (see above).

#4. Modern Psychopathologies: A Comprehensive Christian Appraisal by Barrett McRay (Ph.D.), Mark Yarhouse (Ph.D.), and Richard Butman (Ph.D.), who are Christian clinical psychologists.

Psychology of Religion Books:

Psychology is a science, which means the field is all about publishing in peer-reviewed journals. However, there are still some occasional academic books that get published. Here are some that are relevant for apologetics 

#3. The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James (MD) was trained as a physician but did a lot of work in psychology and even philosophy. There aren't really foundational books in the field of psychology, but if there were, this might be one of them. For this reason, I'm a little embarrassed to admit I haven't actually read it before (I read more journal articles). James was not a Christian, at least I don't think he was, but he was not overly critical of religion either.

#4. Cognitive Science, Religion, and Theology: From Human Minds to Divine Minds by Justin Barrett (mentioned above).

#4. Cognitive Psychology of Religion by Kevin Eames (Ph.D.), who's a cognitive psychologist and Christian.

#4. Neuroscience, Psychology, and Religion by Malcolm Jeeves (Ph.D.) and Warren Brown (Ph.D.)

#4. The Psychology of Prayer by Bernie Spilka (Ph.D.) and Kevin Ladd (Ph.D.) 

#4. The Psychology of Christian Experience by W. Curry Mavid (Ph.D.)

#4. The Psychology of Speaking in Tongues by John Kildahl

#4. A Natural History of Natural Theology: The Cognitive Science of Theology and Philosophy of Religion by Helen De Cruz (Ph.D. x2 in anthropology and philosophy) and Johan De Smedt (Ph.D.). I haven't read this book, but really want to. My understanding of it is that they examine aspects of natural theology from the lens of cognitive science.


The Brain, Soul, Consciousness, and Free Will

This category covers a lot and I plan to add more to this section in particular, but I wanted to have a place to add some of these books. They are relevant to psychology, but a lot of the people writing on these subjects are philosophers or scientists outside of psychology. I say this just to draw attention to that point because psychologists may have a slightly different take on the subject or rely on different sets of data to come to a conclusion. Also, there are a lot of implications for this subject from the books in the reasoning and decision-making section.

#4. Did My Neurons Make Me Do It?: Philosophical and Neurobiological Perspectives on Moral Responsibility and Free Will by Nancy Murphy (Ph.D.) and Warren Brown (Ph.D.) 

#4. Bodies and Souls, or Spirited Bodies? by Nancy Murphy (Ph.D.), who's a Christian philosopher.

#4. Am I just my Brain? by Sharon Dirckx (Ph.D.), who's a Christian neuroscientist.

#4. Rewired: Exploring Religious Conversion by Paul Markham (Ph.D.).


Other Relevant Social Science Books: 

If you want to understand psychology, you have to understand complex relationships between multiple variables. Nothing in psychology has a simple explanation. Psychologists look at everything through the lens of multiple interacting causes, which we separate and test through various statistical methods. These books are not all obviously in the field of psychology, but they are excellent to help people understand the need to look beyond simple and intuitive answers in order to get a full picture of reality.

#1. Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, #2. SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance, #2. Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain, and #3. When to Rob a Bank: ...And 131 More Warped Suggestions and Well-Intended Rants by Steven Levitt (Ph.D. economics) and Stephen Dubner (journalist). The books are interesting, fun to read, and informative. In essence, they will help you think like or see the world with more complexity, much in the way that a social or psychological scientist does.

#1. Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (Ph.D.), who's basically a really smart numbers guy. He's a professor and a former stock trader. What most people don't realize is that psychology is hugely dependent on statistics. If you don't understand stats, you don't understand psychology. While this book is about investing and markets, the stats discussed are very similar to what is used in psychology and the underlying purpose of the use of stats is the same.

 #3. Outliers: The Story of Success, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, #3. The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, #3. David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, #3. What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures, and #2. Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don't Know by Malcolm Gladwell, who's a journalist, pastor's kid, and as of fairly recently, a convert to Christianity (I think while writing David and Goliath). These books are not from a Christian perspective, even after Gladwell's conversion. In short, they won't say much that the books in the reasoning section will say, but Gladwell is so great and tying everything together with stories and a grand narrative.

#3. Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl (MD I think), who was a psychiatrist and concentration camp survivor. This book is a memoir of his time in the concentration camp. 

#3. The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries by Rodney Stark (Ph.D.), who's a sociologist that focuses on religion. This book examines sociological factors that led to the growth of Christianity in the first three or four centuries. Stark admits he was only an in-name-only believer when he wrote this book, but as a result of writing it, became a committed believer.

#3. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Take Hold and Others Come Unstuck by Chip and Dan Heath. This book is great for helping understand how to present information in a way that will help people remember it. What's the point in doing apologetics and evangelism if people won't remember what you actually said?

#3. Humility by Jennifer Cole Wright (Ph.D.), who's a psychologist that focuses on the science of morals and virtue. 

#4. Hearing Voices and Other Matters of the Mind: What Mental Abnormalities Can Teach Us About Religions by Robert McCauley (Ph.D.) and George Graham (Ph.D.), who are philosophers. I do not know if they are Christians.

#4. The Design of Everyday Things: Revised and Expanded by Don Norman (graduate degrees in psychology and engineering but I'm not sure on specifics). This is an excellent book for understanding engineering psychology or human factors and how the design of objects affects us.


Fiction Books:

#3. Walden Two by B.F. Skinner (Ph.D.), who's one of the most well-known psychologists today, even though he died in 1990. He is best known for behaviorism and his work with conditioning. This is a fiction book he wrote about a utopian society based on psychological principles as he understood them when the book was first published in 1948.

#4. Animal Farm by George Orwell and #4. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. These books are excellent representations of some of our most basic and universal psychological tendencies and what could happen if they're left unchecked.


Apologetics Books: 

I love apologetics. It is led me to become a believer. However, apologetics often has a bad reputation inside and outside the church. On the one hand, some of that reputation is unfair. People don't like it when facts and reasons get in the way of their beliefs. On the other hand, apologists tend to write and speak in a way that is very direct and confident. This is a very effective method for people who mostly agree with what is being said or respect the speaker, but it can be off-putting to people who don't already agree or don't respect the speaker.

For these reasons, I am very careful about the apologetics books that I recommend. These books cover the main arguments used in apologetics, and for the most part, do so in a way that is more winsome and not as overstated as some other apologetics resources. If you want to go deeper, there are a ton of other resources available.

#1-2. Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels by J. Warner Wallace (M.A.), who's a cold-case homicide detective that converted to Christianity when he investigated the gospels in the same way he investigates cold-case homicides. This book is the result of that investigation. It's highly accessible and written in a friendly manner that is not condescending or argumentative. He also has a kid's version of this book that is great for children about 10 and under.

#1-2. On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision or #3. Reasonable Faith, Third Edition: Christian Truth and Apologetics by William Lane Craig (Ph.D. in philosophy and Ph.D. in theology), who's a Christian philosopher, apologist, and theologian. Craig is probably the most prolific apologist of our time based on the high quality and quantity of works he has produced for academic and lay audiences. These books cover the same content, but Reasonable Faith is more academic and goes into greater depth. The tone of 

#3. The Reliability of the New Testament: Countering the Challenges to Evangelical Christian Beliefs and #1-2. Can We Still Believe the Bible?: An Evangelical Engagement with Contemporary Questions by Craig Blomberg (Ph.D.), who's a New Testament scholar and one of the foremost experts on the reliability of the New Testament. I've only read portions of these books, but I have read a lot of Blomberg's other materials, listened to him speak, and was fortunate enough to have him as a professor in seminary. He's extremely kind and thoughtful and writes in a way that isn't offensive to people who disagree. The Reliability of the NT is a much more academic and longer book, otherwise, they are similar in content.

#1-2. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller (D.Min.), who's a well-known and respected pastor, even among non-Christians. I haven't read this book yet because when I learned about it, I was already reading more advanced works. However, I am familiar with some of Keller's other works and he is an intelligent and thoughtful communicator so I feel fairly confident this book will be excellent for most people, even non-Christians.

#1-2. Francis Schaeffer books. Really, any of his books are great and serve as excellent (but not quite perfect) examples of how to apply psychological principles to apologetics.

#4. Cultural Apologetics: Renewing the Christian Voice, Conscience, and Imagination in a Disenchanted World by Paul Gould (Ph.D.), who's a Christian philosopher that emphasizes the need for better cultural engagement in apologetics. It's not just as simple as stating a bunch of arguments to convince people.


Marriage, Relationships, Parenting, Leadership, and Discipleship

I lumped these categories all together because they are often lumped together (Marriage and Family) by psychologists and because they underlying psychological mechanisms are often the same. For instance, the same general leadership principles apply to parenting and work, the details are just tailored to each situation. As Christians, we should try to model Christ-like behavior, which is often judged based on the quality of our relationships with others. This affects our ability to influence those we have relationships with already or people who are able to serve our relationships with others. These books are a combination of Christian and non-Christian sources. They mostly align with Christian ideals, but there will be a few comments in these books that stray from the science and make philosophical statements most Christians probably wouldn't agree with.

#4. Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness by Robert Greenleaf.from them so far is great and very useful for apologetics and evangelism, albeit indirectly.

#4. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert, Revised and Updated and Ten Lessons to Transform Your Marriage: America's Love Lab Experts Share Their Strategies for Strengthening Your Relationship by John Gottman (Ph.D.), who's probably the most well-known marriage counselor because he has been able to predict divorce in the first five years of marriage with 95% accuracy based on his research. The degree to which this trend generalizes to all couples is debated, but it's still impressive. This book discusses the factors that are relevant and how to avoid the negative predictors of divorce.

#4. A Lasting Promise: The Christian Guide to Fighting for Your Marriage by Scott Stanley (Ph.D.), Daniel Trathen, Savanna McCain, and Milt Bryan. Stanley is a Christian clinical psychologist (I think the others are too) and probably the top Christian academic for marriage resources.

#4. His Needs, Her Needs: Building a Marriage That Lasts by Willard Harley Jr. (PhD.), who's a Christian clinical psychologist. My wife and I read this book for premarital counseling and have gone through it a few times since. It's a great resource for couples to help them think more about their partner's needs than their own.

#4. The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts by Gary Chapman (Ph.D.), who's a Christian therapist. This book is also geared toward thinking about your partners' needs rather than your own and is a great tool for helping people think about how to express love and concern to other people in all situations.

#4. The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind by Dan Siegel (MD), who's a psychiatrist and probably the leading parenting expert right now. Most of his work is evidence-based and very good, although he does stray a little beyond the evidence from time to time to make points about his worldview. In general, though, I think his parenting advice is pretty solid and would be beneficial for people to follow. 

#4. Kevin Leman (Ph.D.) is a Christian psychologist who writes on marriage and family. The books I've read of his are great. None of his books are ones I would say are the best in the field, but they're all good (at least the ones I've read).

#4. David Schnarch (Ph.D.) is a clinical psychologist who focuses on sex therapy. I don't know if he's a Christian but I have seen him cited a lot by some of the author Christian psychologists on this list. On the one hand, there is some research showing Christians have better sex lives than others, but there are also a lot of people with damaged views of sex due to the church that these books can be helpful for.


Self-Help or Personal Growth

We tend to over-spiritualize spiritual growth as though it is somehow completely separate from other types of maturation, but in reality, it's really not. There are some resources by psychologists, some Christians and some not, to help you grow and mature as a person, which will help you grow as a Christian.

#4. How People Grow: What the Bible Reveals About Personal Growth by Henry Cloud (Ph.D.) and John Townsend (Ph.D.) who are Christian clinical psychologists.

#4. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth (Ph.D.). who's a social psychologist who became relatively famous for her work on this subject.

#4. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck (Ph.D.), who's a psychologist that focuses on the way we frame things in our mind and how it affects our outcomes. This book, from my understanding, focuses on having a fixed vs. growth mindset. A growth mindset is when we think we can grow and develop, which I would say is a biblical concept, and it's generally better on all outcomes.

#4. 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos,  Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life and Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief by Jordan Peterson (Ph.D.), who's a clinical psychologist. He's become famous for all kinds of other issues, but he's a legitimate clinical psychologist and a pretty smart guy. He's a bit more philosophical than most psychologists and willing to draw conclusions beyond the evidence more than most psychologists, but at the same time, he's aware of when he's doing it and has pretty decent philosophical grounding for it. In either case, I think his psychological work in these books is worth reading or listening to, even if he goes astray from time and time. He also does work with one of the top personality psychologists and has some interesting work in that area.


Other Christian Books:

#4. Good Faith: Being a Christian When Society Thinks You're Irrelevant and Extreme, #3. UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity…and Why It Matters by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, #3. You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church...and Rethinking Faith by David Kinnaman and Aly Hawkins, and #4. The Next Christians: Seven Ways You Can Live the Gospel and Restore the World by Gabe Lyons. I've read the first two books and referenced the third one. Kinnaman and Lyons understand culture well and how to effectively engage people in it (which aligns with social science principles). What I have read and heard from them so far is great and very useful for apologetics and evangelism, albeit indirectly.

#3. Interpreting Scripture through Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible by E. Randolph Richards (Ph.D. New Testament) Brandon O'Brien  (Ph.D. in some field of religious or theological studies).

#4. Os Guinness books. Os is a pretty well-known Christian author who does a fair amount of apologetics and has a Ph.D. in sociology. He writes, speaks, and presents information in a way that models good psychological apologetics.

#4. Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation by James K.A. Smith (Ph.D.), who's a theology-oriented philosopher. This book exhibits a pretty good understanding of some of the psychological factors involved in worship.


Recommended Reading Order (top 10 only):

  1. Tactics
  2. Influence
  3. If you don't know apologetics very well, I would suggest reading an apologetics book or two here.
  4. Thinking, Fast and Slow
  5. The Righteous Mind
  6. How to Win Friends and Influence People
  7. Freakonomics
  8. Fooled by Randomness
  9. Pre-Suasion
  10. Blindspot

Other Resources

Blueprint1543 podcast or free online courses on psychology and theology. BluePrint1543 is an organization founded and led by Justin Barrett (mentioned above) with the goal of combining psychological sciences and Christian theology more naturally.

My Christian Psych list on Twitter, which includes Christians who work in cognitive or social sciences.

Psychological Apologetics FB Page, FB group, and Twitter.

The Ten Minute Bible Hour by Matt Whitman and Smarter Every Day by Destin Sandlin. I listed them together because they do a podcast, No Dumb Questions, together, and because they are part of this list for the same reason. They aren't apologists or psychologists, but they do work in a way that models effective methods for reaching believers and unbelievers. Matt teaches about the Bible and does do some apologetics in his videos while Destin does science and engineering videos and only makes it known he's a Christian by posting a Bible verse at the end of his videos and in formats outside his YouTube channel. They both approach their subjects with humility and respect for other views and model ways to interact with people they disagree with.

The Freakonomics and Revisionist History (Malcolm Gladwell) podcasts are great for all the reasons I mentioned above. Agree or disagree with them, that's fine, but the way they look at topics in greater depth and from more angles than we typically see in the media is what social scientists do. These podcasts can help you get in the habit of doing that.

The Moral Science Podcast by Amber Cazzell (Ph.D.), who's a social psychologist that did a postdoc in the lab I work in at Baylor. This is not a Christian podcast but it does cover a lot of topics that are relevant for psychological apologetics.

The Langauge of God podcast by BioLogos, a science-based apologetics organization, has had several episodes that relate to psychological apologetics. After quickly growing their episodes, the ones that seem most relevant are #s 14, 30, 31, 32, 33, 58, 65, 77, 79.

The WorkLife with Adam Grant (Ph.D.) podcast is a psychology podcast that covers a lot of relevant topics for psychological apologetics or just understanding the field of psychology.

The Hidden Brain podcast is a psychology podcast that will help gain understanding in various areas of psychology, some of which are directly related to psychological apologetics.

The CrashCourse Psychology playlist on YouTube.

Faraday Institute for Science and Religion videos and podcasts on the brain and psychology.

The Great Courses on Amazon/Audible Why You Are Who You Are: Investigations into Human Personality by Mark Leary (Ph.D.) and How Colors Affect You: What Science Reveals by William Lidwell. These courses will help you better understand people and how unconscious things affect our decisions.

What is Psychological Apologetics?



I've been explicitly focusing on psychological apologetics for a few years now, but it just dawned on me that I've never clearly defined it, at least not in writing. While I'm not strictly the only person doing psychological apologetics, I am doing it more actively and directly than anyone else right now. With that said, this is my working definition of psychological apologetics.

The short definition is that psychological apologetics is the use and application of psychological sciences for apologetics. I think there are some terms that might be ambiguous there, so let me explain them in more detail.

I am using the word apologetics in a very broad sense to refer to any argument for or defense of Christianity. In essence, anything that attempts to show Christianity is true counts as apologetics. This also bleeds over into theology in the sense that it can inform what is true theologically.

Likewise, I use psychological sciences in a very broad sense to refer to anything that might be considered social or cognitive science. This includes all sub-disciplines of psychology, psychiatry, counseling, neuroscience, sociology, economics, anthropology, linguistics, political science, data analysis or statistics, design, communications, business, and some areas of biology, computer science, philosophy, and medicine.

Finally, what do I mean by the "use and application of?" The "use of" refers to using information from any social or cognitive science to show Christianity is true. For instance, the use of research on hallucinations to show that Jesus' resurrection appearances weren't hallucinations. The "application of" refers to applying psychological sciences to the way we do apologetics. For instance, the science of persuasion suggests that people will be more likely to listen if you listen first, and so applying this to apologetic situations by genuinely listening to people share their opinions and feelings.

Areas for Psychological Apologetics

Now that psychological apologetics has been defined, hopefully clearly, here are some of the many topics that psychological apologetics can be used for.

1. Persuasion

The science of persuasion is hugely relevant for doing apologetics effectively. Most apologists want to use apologetics for evangelism, but most unknowingly write or speak in a way that appeals mostly to people who already agree with them. Apologetics can and should serve this need, to strengthen the faith of believers, but we need our methods to align with our goals. This is perhaps the most important area that psychological science can be utilized for apologetics. There is a lot of science on this topic and the effect that a message has on different audiences. Having people trained in this area of psychology and communications and sharing that information with other apologists could have tremendous benefits for all apologetic arguments. 


2. Memory

The case for the resurrection largely depends on individual and collective memories, which are topics studied by psychologists. There has been great work done in this field by other Christian scholars, but there is potential for much more depth in this area based on the science of memory. This research could also be applied to other religious experiences such as witnessing a miracle.


3. Hallucinations & Delusions

There is a need for psychological apologetics in this field for a couple reasons. One is for the case for the resurrection, to rebut the claims that the resurrection appearances were just hallucinations. The other is for the investigation of extraordinary events such as miracles, near-death experiences, ghost sightings, UFO sightings, and other para-psychological claims. There's been good work done here by other scholars, but again, there is more depth possible with all the scientific literature on these topics.


4. Sex, Sexuality, and Gender

These topics are very big in culture right now and I don't expect that to change any time soon. There are a lot of people speaking on these topics, but the use of scientific evidence is pretty limited. A genuine expert who understands the science, and not just a person who has a study or two they can cite to support their view, would be a great asset for apologetics.


5. Bias or Motivated Reasoning

We are not nearly as rational as we think we are, and when I say "we," I am referring to all people, including atheists. We have a lot of tendencies that lead us to false conclusions. Having a better understanding of how humans reason can lead to stronger arguments and better conversations. For instance, a common objection to the teleological argument is that we have a tendency to see patterns in randomness (apophenia), but having an awareness of this helps us overcome this objection and make the argument stronger. Additionally, understanding the way we reason makes it a lot easier to stay calm and speak respectfully so that we can be more persuasive.


6. Conversion & De-Conversion

Most apologists want to convert people to Christianity, unfortunately, few have a solid understanding of the factors that lead to conversion. More emphasis on what is and isn't effective for conversion, and what factors drive people away from the faith can help apologists be more effective and help strengthen the church as a whole


7. Mental Health

Mental health questions are probably the most frequent ones that I get from other Christians. They are often something like, "can I be a Christian if I have _________?" Fill the blank with any number of labels such as depression, an addiction, sexual desires toward an animal, and on and on. These types of questions that people have, or the way they've seen the church respond to mental health topics, are a huge barrier for people. 


8. General understanding of Science

I wager that most people think they understand science, but really don't have a great grasp of it at a concrete level. Many people think of psychology more as part of the humanities than a science, but in some ways, psychology has to be more scientifically rigorous than other scientific disciplines. The reason for this is because there are so many more factors that can affect the outcome of psychological studies than there are for other subjects. Psychological apologetics can be extremely useful for communicating why science is so great and effective and what it does and where it is limited. This may include talking about the trustworthiness of science for all kinds of topics such as vaccines, climate change, creation, and more. All disciplines are a little different, but there are general principles and processes that are shared among all the sciences that social scientists can weigh in on as another voice.


9. Mind/Brain/Soul/Spirit

Psychologists study thoughts and behaviors, all of which come back to the brain. Does that include the mind, soul, and/or spirit? These are questions that reach beyond science, but there is scientific evidence that can help inform our conclusions on these things or make some views seem more or less likely.

10. Free Will

Debates about free will are similar to the point made above, at least as far as psychology is concerned. The free will defense is popular in current apologetics, but Christians vary quite a bit on their views of free will. The scientific evidence is sometimes used on both sides (I know there are technically more than two, but that's not relevant at this point) of the argument so having people more knowledgeable about that science can be very helpful.


11. Marriage, Relationships, Parenting, Leadership, and Discipleship

All these topics are within the realm of psychology and all relate to discipleship and modeling Christ-like behavior. The psychology of marriage, relationships, parenting, and leadership can help Christians do this more effectively, in a way that will produce more disciples and disciples who are more mature. Additionally, there are arguments that can be made, or at least objections that can be answered based on this science. For instance, an objection to theism that goes back to Freud is that people believe in God because He serves as a replacement father for people who had a bad relationship with their father (or no relationship). The Christian psychologist Paul Vitz found the opposite was actually the case in his book The Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism.

12. Stereotyping, Prejudice, and Discrimination

Race and all other -isms are all over the public headlines right now. Among Christian circles, Critical Race Theory (CRT) gets all the attention, but there is a ton of social science research on this topic that has nothing to do with CRT. Psychological apologetics can offer unique insights to these and other cultural topics to remove barriers to the gospel.

13. Art, Beauty, and Imagination

We often hear people say "it's an art, not a science," but did you know there is a science of art and beauty? This is a topic psychologists study to understand what people think is beautiful and how art affects our thoughts. Psychological apologetics can understand and apply this science to help apologists reach more people and be more influential. Houston Baptist University has an apologetics program that emphasizes the arts and imagination, which is wonderful and under-utilized in apologetics. Having psychological apologists in this area would be a huge asset to the field.

14. Psychology and Theology

There are a ton of ways in which psychology can inform our theology, which may or may not relate to apologetics, although I tend to think that good theology is always part of apologetics. For instance, the Bible warns us not to sleep too much. Well, what is too much? Psychology can help us answer that question so that we don't sin by sleeping too much or too little. This is just one of many ways that psychology can inform our theology, which affects our apologetics.

15. Other

All the categories listed are just broad, general topics that are most relevant to apologetics right now; however, you never know what opportunities may present themselves in the future for psychological apologetics. It might be other culturally relevant topics or a new objection that comes up based on social and cognitive sciences and we need people trained in these sciences to better answer these challenges. For instance, my most read article is on the enneagram but this is not an obvious need or relevant topic for apologetics.

How to Start Doing Psychological Apologetics

If psychological apologetics sounds interesting or useful to you, it's important to gain a proper understanding of psychology and learn apologetics fairly well. To do get started, check out my list of resources for psychological apologetics.

If you think it might be something you eventually want to specialize in and do for a career, then you likely need to get a graduate degree (ideally a doctorate) in some field of social or cognitive science and a graduate degree in some field of theology or biblical studies. Whatever your level of interest or career goals, there are plenty of resources available for you to start using psychological apologetics.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Review of Thriving with Stone Age Minds

Thriving with Stone Age Minds: Evolutionary Psychology, Christian Faith, and the Quest for Human Flourishing Thriving with Stone Age Minds: Evolutionary Psychology, Christian Faith, and the Quest for Human Flourishing by Justin L. Barrett and Pamela Ebstyne King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was really excited when I first learned about this book before it was even published. Justin Barrett's focus is on cognitive and evolutionary psychologist and Pam Ebstyne King's is on developmental and positive psychology. I have relied heavily on their work for my own education in psychology and ministry work so I was excited to see how they integrated psychology and theology at a popular level.

Overall, the book was great. I think it will be an excellent introduction to evolutionary psychology for Christians who might be skeptical of the field. While the authors do hold the view that humans and other animals are the product of evolution, that is not a necessary belief for accepting the conclusions of this book or evolutionary psychology. All the conclusions are the same if it's assumed that God specially created humans the way we are now.

In the book, the authors argue that what makes humans different from other animals is our social ability, ability to attain and use information, and our ability to exhibit self-control. Based on these traits (evolved or designed), we can make scientific predictions about what leads to human flourishing and these predictions align with what the Bible teaches about flourishing. The alignment of science and Christianity theology on this topic is a useful apologetic tool that isn't often discussed in other apologetics sources.

I went back and forth on whether to give this book 4 or 5 stars (fractions aren't possible on this platform) because I couldn't decide if my criticisms were fair based on my familiarity with the subject. The main problem I had with this book is that it is written for a broad audience. For most people, this is probably a positive thing, but I have a bit more experience in the field of psychology so I didn't learn a lot from this book.

The only other critique I have of this book is that it is too short. This relates to the depth I already talked about, but in addition to that, I think they could have explained some interesting research studies or used more stories to give practical examples of the points they were making. To be fair, they did do these things, and did them pretty well, but I think it would have made the book even more engaging if they did it more like other psychology books do (Gladwell, Cialdini, Pinker, and other psychologists).

Ultimately, the book was enjoyable to listen to, accessible, and will be informative for most people. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in theology, psychology, or human flourishing, even most psychologists because the way the authors integrate faith with science might be useful Christian psychologists who haven't thought about this integration much.

View all my reviews

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Marketing the Messiah


 As I was getting in bed a couple nights ago, a friend texted me to ask about the documentary Marketing the Messiah, so I decided to stay up and watch it. The documentary purports to tell "the 'true' story of early Christianity," and from a filmmaking perspective, it's pretty well done. They use humor well, the production value is high-quality, and they assembled a seemingly impressive arrangement of scholars. From an academic perspective, it's filled with half-truths and fringe theories that would be hard-pressed to get published in even the most liberal academic sources.

I took several notes on the film while watching it so I could have specific things to talk to my friend about when we meet to discuss the claims in the film. As I told him over text, the claims made in the film should cause Christians to have serious doubts about their faith...but only if the claims of the film are true. Fortunately for Christians, we have good evidence that the claims they make are not true and this article is my attempt to organize my thoughts about the film as preparation to speak with my friend.

Scholarship and Credibility

In the internet age, it is difficult to know who to trust and why. If you've never had the opportunity to study a topic for several years, it's hard to get a sense of how deep a topic can be and how wide the scholarly opinions can be. I like to think of scholarship like a mountain where the height at any given point represents a scholars knowledge in that specific area. Under this analogy, a scholar's specialty is the peak where they have the most knowledge. As disciplines or sub-disciplines move away from the peak, they are less knowledgeable and more reliant on the other scholars who do specialize in those areas.

For instance, a New Testament (NT) scholar likely has better than average knowledge of theology, Old Testament studies (including Hebrew), Christian history, first-century history, other religions, archaeology, and maybe a few other disciplines. They likely have more in-depth knowledge in multiple sub-disciplines of NT studies like Greek, textual criticism, document dating methods, Church fathers, all the books of the NT, New Testament theology, and maybe a few more (and there are more). Someone specializing in Pauline studies would have even more knowledge in the letters of Paul, Pauline theology, first-century Judaism, first-century Greek philosophy, and more. Then, each one of those sub-disciplines can be specialized in.

Someone who specializes in a different sub-discipline just won't have the same level of knowledge in these areas, meaning they won't be as knowledgeable about nuances and the broad range of scholarly views. The further away from a scholar's specialization in a topic, the less likely they are to have as deep of knowledge in other specialties. I am working on an article to explain this in concrete and detailed way and will link it here when I finish.

All that to say, the content of this documentary was mostly in the purview of New Testament studies and first to fourth-century history, but most of the scholars in the documentary had specialties in other areas, and with the exception of Michael Bird (theologian), they were all liberal scholars, and at least two (Price and Carrier) are on the extreme fringes and not taken seriously even by many liberal scholars (Google Bart Ehrman's comments about Jesus mythicism).

In terms of persuasive tactics, this is an extremely effective method to convince people of what is true as long as people are not willing to investigate their claims and the works of more mainstream scholars. It takes time and hard work to figure who is trustworthy, where people are getting their information, and what to believe so most documentaries (not just this one) can seem extremely persuasive by being really biased while trying to appear non-biased.

Examples

Broad, general critiques about the documentary can be hard to conceptualize without specific examples so here are a couple examples of sketchy scholarship in the documentary.

Perhaps the most surprising thing in the documentary was the scholar discussing the infancy gospel of Thomas as though it were a reliable and accurate source about Jesus' childhood. At best, it's a mid-second century document, meaning it was written 150 years after Jesus' birth and childhood. The reason it is not included in the Bible is not because of what it says, but because it is a much later document than the other books of the NT and was never considered scripture among early Christians.

To put this in perspective, this would be similar to me writing about Abraham Lincoln's birth and childhood today and adding details about his childhood that are not in any source written before now. Granted, a little more time has passed since Lincoln's birth than the amount of time the Infancy Gospel Thomas was written after Jesus' birth, but even if I was writing 50 years ago, would you still trust what I said about his childhood if there were no earlier sources that recorded what I wrote? I would hope not, even if I was his most direct living kin.

Another example comes from a subtle, passing comment they made. The persuasive power of making such a comment is strong because it makes it seem like it is absolutely and inarguably true. The comment they made was a reference to other dying and rising Gods or Saviors before the time of Jesus, which is meant to imply that Jesus was just a copycat of other mythologies. The problem is that the original source materials do not depict these other figures (Osiris, Horis, etc.) as dying and rising Gods or in some cases, the other mythologies copied Jesus.

I don't have the time or the space to write in detail about the other issues in the documentary but so I will just briefly mention the other points I noted.
  1. They misrepresented the origin of Jesus' label as the Son of God
  2. They overemphasized Paul's mission to the gentiles while downplaying his and other apostles' mission to Jews.
  3. They presented a liberal scholar view as the unequivocal consensus on several topics.
  4. They ignored the historical accuracy of Luke and Acts.
  5. They completely ignored other views on the dates and authorship of the gospels and epistles.
  6. They ignored non-biblical historical sources that didn't support their view.
  7. They inaccurately portrayed how Christianity became the dominant religion in Rome.
  8. They ended with the extremely fringe view that Jesus never actually existed which is a view help by arguably no qualified scholar (there are debates about who's qualified, but even with a generous view, it's still a very very rare view).
  9. They also made several other more minor claims that I just didn't care to write down in my notes.

So Who's Right?

Why should you trust me over the people in this documentary? Well for one reason, I'm not necessarily trying to convince people that this documentary is wrong, only that there are a lot of scholars in more relevant fields who would strongly disagree with a huge proportion of the claims in this documentary, including Bart Ehrman (NT scholar) who is hostile to Christianity.

As for who to trust, knowing who or what information to trust is difficult with all topics and is one of the reasons why our culture is the way it is right now. If you really want know what is true, you have to assume both sides are equally biased or wrong and apply equal criticism across the board. At the same time, it's important to read original sources (such as the Infancy Gospel of Thomas) and learn about these sources from scholars on both sides of an argument.

Resources

If you want to investigate the opposing claims to this documentary, here are just a few of the many resources available to help you do that.

Beginner or Introductory

Cold-Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace. He also has a website and YouTube channel by the same name with a lot of useful resources.
Can we still Believe the Bible by Craig Blomberg
Can we Trust the Gospels by Peter Williams

Intermediate to Advanced

The Historical Reliability of the Gospels by Craig Blomberg
The Historical Reliability of the New Testament by Craig Blomberg
Jesus and the Eye-Witnesses by Richard Bauckham
The Resurrection of Jesus by Michael Licona

Experts Featured in Documentary:

Here is the list of all the "experts" interviewed in the documentary. Most have relevant graduate degrees and work in related fields, but none of them seem to have direct expertise with ancient document dating methods or historical reliability of ancient documents. While there is a mix of Christians and non-Christians on this list, I would classify Bird and theologically moderate to conservative, but everyone else seems to be on the liberal end of the spectrum.

Michael Bird, Theology, Ridley College

  • Ph.D. appears to be in theology or New Testament, but I couldn't find specifics.

Richard Carrier, No academic affiliation

  • Ph.D. in Ancient History

Geoffrey Dunn, Department of Ancient Languages and Cultures, University of Pretoria

  • Ph.D. Specific field unknown and doesn’t seem to publish on dating/reliability methods

Marc Goodacre, Department of Religious Studies, Duke University

  •   D. Phil in Theology (New Testament)

David Fitzgerald, No academic affiliation

  • No graduate degree. Has a B.S. in History and Liguistics

Chris Forbes, Department of Ancient History, Macquarie University

  • Ph.D. Field unknown, but publishes in NT history

Brent Landau, Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies, University of Texas

  • Th.D. - New Testament & Early Christianity

Raphael Lataster, Religious Studies, University of Sydney

  • Ph.D. Religious Studies

Amy-Jill Levine, Professor of NT and Jewish Studies, Vanderbilt

  • Ph.D. field unknown but published in NT

Shushma Malik, Lecturer in Classics, University of Roehampton

  • Ph.D. appears to be in Classics

Robert Price, No academic affiliation

  • Ph.D. in Theology and Ph.D. in NT

David Runia, University of Melbourne and Australian Catholic University

  • LittD (Doctor of Letters) in Classics and Philosophy

Friday, February 12, 2021

One last lesson from Ravi

Until recently, Ravi Zacharias was a hero of the Christian faith. If you happen to be in the dark about him, he was the world's most well-known apologist, but recent investigations have revealed that he engaged in unknown numbers of immoral and illegal sexual sins before his death. In the next few days or weeks, there will likely be a slew of people, including well-known Christian leaders, who will comment on what happened and the lessons we should learn from this situation. I want to talk about a lesson that you likely won't hear anywhere else, but I would argue it's the most important because it can have the greatest effect on reducing the number of victims.

By all accounts, Ravi was more disciplined, devout, and virtuous than most other people, including others in ministry. He had a stellar reputation, which he seems to have genuinely earned (which does not justify placing someone above reproach). There's a lot about Ravi and this situation that I do not know, but I do know psychology, and things like this don't just happen overnight. They develop over time in a slow progression of seemingly harmless acts or minor sins (see hedonic treadmill and related terms).


If someone like Ravi can do such evil, SO CAN YOU!
 The Bible tells us as much when it says that the heart is deceptive above all else (Jeremiah 17:9) and no one is righteous, not even one (Romans 3:10). Or as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn says in The Gulag Archipelago, "the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being." I am reasonably certain that 30 years ago, Ravi would have scoffed at the idea that he would ever commit such terrible sins. My hope is that people recognize that under the right circumstances, they too are capable of committing equally terrible acts.

Realistically, it's almost certain that anyone reading this, or anyone else for that matter, will not sin to the degree that Ravi did. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't be on guard. Adultery is more likely, but the number of people who buy sex from someone who's been trafficked against their will or view illegal pornography (underage or non-consensual) is probably much more common than most people think. It doesn't have to be sexual sin either. Drunk driving, stealing (even "small" things like office supplies from work), violent anger, addiction (drugs, alcohol, gambling, etc.), 

We like to think that our moral beliefs and character will prevent us from doing evil, but it's not enough. Beliefs and character are good and necessary, but they're not enough. Every atrocity committed throughout world history was largely done by normal, "good" people. Sure, there were evil people at the top and people who dissented, but most of the common soldiers who carried out the evil deeds were well-intentioned, normal people. Psychological experiments such as the Milgram experiments, Stanford prison study, and many more have repeatedly shown that "good" people can do great harm given the right situation, and this includes becoming active perpetrators (not just passive conformers).

Thankfully, we aren't helpless victims, doomed to become perpetrators at the drop of a hat. Contrary to popular notions, the most powerful thing we can do is to NOT only depend on the strength of our own character. We can and should grow our character, but the most potent preventative measures are in external resources. Ironically, using external measures will form your character in positive ways, creating a synergistic effect.

When I say external resources, I am referring to people, things, or actions that help us avoid the first steps of sin so they never even have the chance to escalate into much bigger sins (sexual sins are the obvious ones, but this applies to others as well). There are countless things you can do so I will only give a few examples. 

  1. Give your spouse complete access to all your accounts, phone(s), and computer(s). If unmarried, give this access to one or more of the people closest to you (who will encourage moral behavior). 
  2. If needed, put a porn lock or filter on your devices, keep your computer in a public place, and if you are constantly failing in this area, get rid of your smartphone. 
  3. Stop ingesting or limit consumption of all negative forms of media. It doesn't just have to be media that is sexualized, but anything that promotes or normalizes. This may include social media (and who you follow on it) or even the nightly news for some people. We all have different temptations so don't compare yourself to others. Know your own weaknesses and focus on avoiding those. 
  4. If married, don't be alone with members of the opposite sex (or limit it to rare occasions). Don't talk bad about your spouse to others, especially members of the opposite sex (address those issues with your spouse and/or a therapist). If living alone, get a roommate who can hold you accountable. Likewise, if traveling for business, see if you can share a room with a co-worker rather than each getting your own room.
  5. You can also learn more about how sins start or grow. The book His Needs, Her Needs does this pretty well in the context of adultery. Fight the New Drug has lots of information on how pornography is harmful to people who consume it, make it, and society. Understanding these things better can help you better prevent sins.
  6. Stop tolerating or rationalizing things you do that are just small sins or things you know are probably wrong. Examples might include speeding, looking at porn or fantasizing about people you're not married to, cheating on your taxes, pirating digital media (music, movies, books, etc.), getting drunk, name-calling or using dehumanizing language (common on social media), using your phone while driving (illegally, but even legal use is arguably wrong in most circumstances), and others.
  7. If you are in a position of power (or as you gradually achieve these positions), distribute your power where you can, put precautions in place to keep your ego in check, create an atmosphere of openness and respect, and train the people you lead how to appropriately question authority.
  8. No matter how big or small your failure is, repent and confess it to someone. The longer you wait, the harder it becomes. Do it now and don't skip confessing to someone. When sins stay in the dark, that's how they grow and lead to more and more sins. 
  9. Surround yourself with virtuous people. If you spend time with people who act virtuously and that is the norm of the group, you will be much more likely to adopt and internalize those values so that you will grow in virtue rather than in vice. 

My final suggestion, which Christians should do anyway, is to donate money sacrificially. Why? The things Ravi did can scarcely happen without fairly large amounts of excess money (which Ravi had personally and had access to through the ministry). It's unlikely anyone reading this will ever have the power or opportunities that Ravi had, but most who read this either have or will have enough money to make some really bad choices and probably the occasional opportunity to do so.

Ravi was on a pedestal, which was one of many factors that contributed to his actions and allowed him to get away with it. No one should be on a pedestal so high they are not questioned, however, I want to challenge you not to put yourself on a pedestal either. Have the humility to recognize your potential weaknesses and put measures into your life to prevent you from even starting down a dangerous road. Being a morally upright and virtuous person right now is not a guarantee that you will continue to be this way in the future. It helps, but it's no guarantee.


Flee from sexual immorality.

- 1 Corinthians 6:18 (NIV) 

 

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

- Matthew 5:27-30 (NIV)