#STRask: February 27, 2017

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Published on 02/27/2017

In 4 min. or less, Greg answers questions about teaching junior high students, severity of punishment in Hell, and moral relativism.


  • What advice would you give to someone teaching your new book to 6th-8th graders with little Biblical knowledge?
  • Will sending criminals to prison for their crimes reduce the severity of their punishment in Hell?
  • When defending the moral argument and the person says objective moral values do not exist, how do you respond?


Melinda: There’s the ding, and that means it’s the beginning of the new episode of #STRask, STR’s short podcast. You send us your questions on Twitter, and I pose them to Greg, and he’s got four minutes on a timer to answer them. Easy peasy, right?

Greg: That’s right. I’m still chuckling on there’s the ding. Not always sure what you’re referring to there.

Melinda: The dingbat.

Greg: Well if the shoe fits.

Melinda: I said there, therefore it’s outside of me.

Greg: Not here. Here’s the ding...

Melinda: Here’s the ding, wherever it is. Dings don’t have physical existence right?

Greg: Well ding is a word used to describe a sound.

Melinda: Let’s turn this into a philosophical discussion about the existence of dings. Anyway, this is our short podcast. The episode is short, the answers are short, therefore the questions have to be short.

Greg: The humor is short.

Melinda: You send them to us on Twitter. What?

Greg: The humor is short.

Melinda: Yes. I am short. Here we go. Let’s just jump in.

Greg: What do you got?

Melinda: It’s from fieldsy34, what advice would you give to someone teaching about your new book to 6th through 8th graders with little biblical knowledge?

Greg: My sister, who is my older sister a year my senior. She is actually reading the book to her, let’s see, to her granddaughter, and I’m trying to think of how old she is, but I think she’s only about 10 or 11 years old, or maybe even a little younger. It wasn’t until she got to the chapter of the problem of evil which is a little bit more challenging, because of the concepts involved, that she ran into difficulty. My nine year old is reading the book, or was for a while. She’s gotten into the third or 4th chapter. I think it’s certainly accessible. Some of the chapters are going to be a little bit more difficult, but I don’t see any reason why somebody can’t use the book, The Story of Reality, as a guide to explaining to their children. They could read portions of it and just skip over the things that are a little bit more complex. I do have a hope, if the numbers continue, there’s a good trajectory on this book, of writing another one. If Zondervan wants to pick this project up, and that would be one that’s a condensed form for children. Specifically with young people in mind, younger people, like grammars age five, six, seven, whatever. To be used by parents, and I’m looking forward to that. I think that’s going to be fun, but I think the concepts in general are fairly straight forward.

Melinda: 6th to 8th graders, having been a middle school teacher who taught a lot of this kind of stuff, there’s nothing in that book that 6th to 8th graders can’t handle.

Greg: Yeah I think you’re right, I think you’re right, and if some people think it is, it’s just because you’re underselling what your middle school child is capable of doing. Characteristically I think in our culture the educational system has not made much of a demand on people, so adults then, when they’re asked to think just a little bit about some things they get weary really quickly. I don’t think this is very complex, complicated, difficult in that sense, and the feedback that I’ve gotten from a whole bunch of people on Amazon, is that this covers the basics in a very accessible fashion.

Melinda: When you originally started thinking about this material it was called Credo, and the idea that it was sort of a catechism. Catechism, it’s a word not used, it’s a practice not practiced much in churches anymore, but the idea is just to teach. To teach the basics. Kids are the perfect audience for catechism. I attended Lutheran School and we were taught Luther’s Small Catechism, which he wrote for children, the large catechism was for adults, from 1st grade on.

Greg: Yeah sure. My daughters, when they were in 1st grade had to memorize a catechism. A basic one.

Melinda: The whole point of this book is a catechism or a basic book.

Greg: Yeah most catechisms are in question, answer form, so here’s the question, here’s the answer, and the pedagogy is easy for kids in that regard, but you can do the same thing with this, that is cover the basics in a sound way. By following the story of reality. God, man, Jesus, cross, resurrection. Those five words are meant to make it easy.

Melinda: Just had a thought, just lost it. Oh, you’ve talked before about, that your children go to a classics school, so there’s the three different stages of learning, and 6th to 8th graders are at the logic stage. That’s the higher stage where they’re actually learning to think through things. The problem of evil and some of the other things you talk about in the book, they’re at the perfect age to be thinking through those things.

Greg: Even that one, that is probably the most complex issue, even that one I think is very accessible, and that’s the feedback I’ve gotten. It’s a tough issue to conceptualize and work through, but I think it’s within reach if somebody wants to reach a little bit.

Melinda: I used to teach the cosmological argument to 5th graders. I think they can handle the problem of evil. Yeah, because the way you teach it, basically relies on having some of those basic points in place, and once you understand those things, the problem of evil actually solves itself fairly logically or clear-, I don’t want to say easily. It’s not an easy topic, but it’s pretty straight forward once you have the right building blocks in place about Christianity.

Greg: Right, a point I make in the book is that the problem of evil is not the kind of problem for the Christian view of reality as many people think, because our story is about the problem of evil. It starts in chapter three and it ends 66 books later. That’s the whole issue of our story, how do we get rescued? It does resolve it, yes.

Melinda: Next question comes from Twitter. Will sending criminals to prison for their crimes reduce the severity of their punishment in hell?

Greg: No, I don’t see any connection there. There are two different courts, there are human courts and then there’s God’s court. Just because you pay for a crime before a human court does not mean you will not pay for that crime before God’s court, and vice versa. That is, if a person commits a crime and becomes a Christian, it is not enough for them to say, as some have tried to do, well God has forgiven me, therefore the governor should forgive me. I remember a very particular case like this in Texas when George Bush was governor. He said, I think quite accurately...

Melinda: Karla Faye Tucker.

Greg: Exactly right, yeah. For all we know, she had a genuine conversion, but her crime was a brutal crime and what the governor, Bush, at that time said was, God has his court and I have mine.

Melinda: Jesus said render to Caesar things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.

Greg: Yeah I hadn’t made that application to that, but I think it’s a sound one.

Melinda: You’re welcome.

Greg: You should say thank you to me.

Melinda: I learned that before I met you.

Greg: Because I tossed you a...Nevermind nevermind, a crumb. Yes?

Melinda: The reason paying for a crime here in prison doesn’t have anything to do with punishment in hell or punishment in the future life, is because this, the punishment in this life deals with those who were harmed mortally, and our eternal punishment has to do with our crimes against God.

Greg: Yeah, I think that’s a fair way of putting it, right. Right. One is an offense against the state, to which the state is appropriately demanding payment with punishment. Another is a crime against God, which God appropriately demands payment for. Yeah, they’re again, two different courts. I never thought about that question before, it’s the first time it’s ever been asked, which is true, but a lot of these questions that come up in STRask, man I’ve never been asked that before.

Melinda: Yeah I mean I think a lot of these are, not that the issues are small, but they’re just sort of gosh, sometimes I read these and I think it’s like, oh, you know I’ve always wondered this thing, but it’s, they don’t want to call up and wait on hold and talk. Maybe they’re, sometimes they might even be embarrassed about asking it, but you can do it this way, and yeah they turn out to be very interesting questions. Whether the answers are interesting is a whole other matter, that’s up to Greg, not the asker. Next question. By the way, remind me before we start the next episode, there’s a couple bible verses for you to look up.

Greg: Okay, there’s a couple of bible verses that I have to look up, so I’m reminding you.

Melinda: Thank you very much. Next question comes from Riley JMU. When defending the moral argument, and the person says objective moral values do not exist, how do you respond?

Greg: Well, you can’t advance the moral argument with a person who says objective moral values don’t exist. Well you can lay the argument out, but what that person is doing is denying the truth of one premise. The moral argument simply says, it’s the moral argument for the existence of God. It says if there is no God, there is no objective morality, but there is objective morality, therefore there is God. It’s a modus tollens kind of form of argument okay? It’s valid form, such that if the premises are true then the conclusion is undeniable, but in this case a person is taking exception with the second premise, that objective morality does exist. I think the biggest proof and more powerful evidence for the existence of objective morality is the complaint that is on virtually everyone’s lips about the problem of evil. If there is no objective morality, then there is no problem of evil. It’s just that simple. Because the problem of evil is a complaint that if God is real and if he is good then how could there be so much evil in the world? Notice the language. In the world, and even if they don’t use the language, they’re implying it by the way they ask the question. Evil out there, not things that happen that are just different from what I prefer, that would be relativism, but there is something going on out there that is actually wrong even if the people doing it think it’s right. That’s the complaint. Well, if that’s the complaint, the complaint rests of necessity on the notion of objective morality, which is the claim of the second premise in this argument. If it turns out that the second premise is false, well then the moral argument doesn’t work, but then there’s no evil in the world, and the people who think there are, are just talking nonsense. It strikes me that it’s a whole lot more obvious that evil exists in the world than that we are just mistaken about that. I think we are all on very solid ground so to speak, to hold to the truth of the second premise, objective morality does exist. Incidentally, the word objective is important here. It’s not always included in there, it’s presumed, but I’m just saying, explicitly because relativistic morality can be built on everything. You don’t need a God for that, but that’s not real morality, that’s just people’s opinion for themselves how they want to behave. What they like and don’t like. Real morality is objective morality. That requires an objective standard, and as the argument goes, that seems to require God’s existence. If anybody wants to tell me that there is no evil in the world. I should say, that morals are relative and not objective, then I’m going to ask them, press them on the issue. Do you ever complain about evil in the world, and if you did what did you mean? Even if they want to play this game with you, just hang around for a little while and listen to their language, and they’re going to start making moral statements that they intend to be understood as statements about objective morality, not subjective morality. It happens all the time.

Melinda: We were talking in a previous question about your book, and you brought up the problem of evil and why evil is actually not a problem in the Christian worldview. You’ve actually made the point that for relativists, they don’t only have a problem of evil also, but they actually have a problem of good.

Greg: That’s right.

Melinda: Why don’t you explain that one.

Greg: All is lost. Okay, if relativism is true, that means that moral claims that people make are merely a reflection of their own personal likes or dislikes or beliefs. They are not claims about the way the world is. If somebody were to say rape is wrong, if they are relativists they aren’t talking about rape, they are talking about themselves. It’s subjectivism, they’re talking about the subject themselves. Okay, so if morality doesn’t exist, then that means evil doesn’t exist, nor does good. When somebody says, wow that was a nice you did or a good thing you did or a noble thing that you did or a virtuous thing that you did, these are moral judgments. Not just you are wrong, but you are right in what you did. Both of those are moral judgments and both require an objective standard, in order to be meaningful. Some kind of standard, to be meaningful. If you deny the existence of the standard, then you have no criterion by which you can distinguish between good and bad, in anything. What’s a good bowler? We’ve got to have a scoring system to know a good bowler, a good golfer, a good anything for that matter. A good artist, a good...Whatever. You’ve got a scoring system, at least implicit. Relativists deny the scoring system, therefore there can be no evil and there can be no good, everything is lost in a twilight of moral nothingness.

Melinda: When somebody adopts moral relativism, they may think they’ve gotten rid of the problem of guilt and judgment, but they’ve given away much much more than that, and like you said, you mentioned in your book, Moral Relativism, that nothing is praiseworthy or shame worthy. It’s like the name of the book, Feet Firmly Planted in Midair.

Greg: In midair. I remember having a conversation about this a long time ago with Bill Craig, William Lane Craig. We were both driving in a car, and I was driving, and I was talking about this thing. I said, you know, if they claim that morals are relative, then they have to say that nothing that looks evil is evil. If they start claiming that something is evil, they have to give up their relativism, I mean, to be fair. I offered that to him, and he paused for a moment, he thought about it, and he said yes, and when they countenance, I said they surrender their relativism, and he said yes, and when they countenance terrible evil, and then don’t call it evil, they surrender their humanity.

Melinda: Which is actually happening. There are reports from universities that students in this current generation are even reluctant to blame the Nazis, or see what the Nazi’s did...

Greg: Right, yeah I know, but then they’re going to turn around and find some other political figure or conservative to label as objectively wrong. They’re wildly inconsistent here, but he made a good point. You end up surrendering your genuine humanity because we are made in the image of God. We have moral machines going on inside. It is appropriate for us to make certain kinds of judgements about things and when we refuse to do that then we are surrendering something really important.

Melinda: Okay, well that’s it for this episode folks. This is the #STRask podcast. We post two new episodes every week on Monday and Thursday. You can still talk to Greg on Tuesdays 4 to 6PM Pacific time, that’s where you get more time to talk with him, and send us your questions for this...

Greg: You don’t have to talk with Melinda, just me and you.

Melinda: That’s true, might be better. Not as interesting, but might be better. Send us your questions on Twitter using the hashtag STRask and I’m Melinda the Enforcer, with Greg Koukl, for Stand to Reason.