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Archive for the ‘apologetics’ Category

You don’t have to have a degree in theology, philosophy, or science to engage in Christian apologetics or “defending the faith.” What you need is a deep-seated faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and an abiding love for Him.

but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. -1 Peter 3:15-16

Did you notice what Peter didn’t say? He didn’t say you need to have a working knowledge of metaphysics or a basic understanding of aristotilian logic or even the scientific method.  He didn’t even suggest that conversation on spiritual matter requires an ability to answer all spiritual questions an unbeliever might have. While knowledge in the above areas is incredibly valuable, none of these things actually equip us for the task of defending the faith.

On the contrary, regarding “Christ the Lord as holy” in our hearts is the means by which we will be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in us. In other words, if you want to be prepared to defend your faith–you must simply treasure Christ supremely in your heart.

You might object that some people won’t care about how precious Christ is to you. They have questions about Christianity, the Bible, evolution, etc. etc. Let me first say that most people don’t have nearly as many questions as we think they do. And secondly, all people are naturally opposed to the things of God anyway (1 Cor. 2:14).

When we seek to convince a non-Christian of the veracity of the Christian faith, we are fighting a losing battle. Apart from the work of God on the human heart, people suppress the truth in their unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). In other words, its impossible for Christianity to gain a fair hearing–everyone you would hope to convince of Christianity’s merit are already opposed to it.

Does that mean that apologetic task is doomed to fail? If all our arguments will not convince people, how are we to approach apologetics? I have never met anyone who converted to Christ because they lost an argument about Christianity. On the contrary, I have witnessed many come to faith because of testimony of a faithful Christian and the hope they found in Christ.

The manner in which we do apologetics is as important as the answers we provide. Thus Peter says when you give a reason for the hope you have in Christ, do so “with gentleness and respect.” So its important that our lives are consistent, in some regard, with our testimony. I am not arguing that Christians seek to be perfect, but rather that they continually rely on, live by, and hope in the gospel.

Peter would have us be ready to give an answer “to anyone who asks us a reason for the hope that is in us.” You don’t have to be an expert in philosophy or science to do so because life’s biggest questions cannot be answered by science or philosophy. What happens when I die? Why did my friend die so young? Why is there so much sin, sickness, and despair in the world and will it ever go away? What is the meaning of my existence?

Science and philosophy attempt answers at these questions but neither can fix the problems that drive them. The gospel does one better. The gospel offers a fix to the problems behind these questions. Simply put, the gospel offers what people truly need:  hope.

Science and philosophy can only attempt answers to the “why” questions but neither can solve our most desperate problems. So instead of constantly worrying about whether you can intelligently answer every question your unbelieving friend might have, simply offer them the hope you have found in Christ. They may be completely closed off to any discussion of Jesus now, but eventually life will confront them with questions that they cannot answer and problems they cannot fix and if you are abiding in Christ you have the answer to their heart’s deepest longing–to know their creator through the sacrifices of His Son. When you have a friend desperate to save their marriage or coming to terms with the reality of death, if you are abiding in Christ, you have the answers to their most desperate questions.

I am thankful for intelligent Christians in the public square who are answering the scientific and philosophical questions of the unbelieving world. I praise the Lord for them but these conversations are not likely to produce much fruit. What will, however, is one friend offering another hope–hope to overcome our deepest flaws and failures. Hope to live again. Hope that will not disappoint.

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This thing which I have called the Tao, which others may call Natural Law … is not one among a series of of possible systems of value. It is the sole source of all value judgements. If it is rejected, all value is rejected. If any value is retained, it is retained. The effort to refute it and raise a new system of value in its place is self-contradictory. There has never been, and never will be, a radically new judgement of value in the history of the world. What purport to be new systems or (as they now call them) ‘ideologies,’ all consist of fragments from the Tao itself, arbitrarily wrenched from their context in the whole and then swollen to madness in their isolation, yet still owing to the Tao and to it alone such validity as they possess. If my duty to my parents is a superstition, then so is my duty to posterity. If justice is a superstition, then so is my duty to my country or my race. If the pursuit of scientific knowledge is a real value, then so is conjugal fidelity. The rebellion of new ideologies against the Tao is a rebellion of the branches against the tree: if the rebels could succeed they would find that they had destroyed themselves. The human mind has no more power of inventing a new value system than of imagining a new primary colour, or, indeed, of creating a new sun and a new sky for it to move in.” -C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, pp. 55-56.

 

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Click here and here to watch two excellent lectures by Oxford scholar, Dr. John Lennox, on the new atheism and morality. The lectures were delivered at SEBTS in March 2008, so I don’t know how long the videos will be available.

If you’re sitting there wondering whether you should take the time to watch, my favorite professor at Southeastern, Dr. John Hammett, says these are the best lectures he has heard in the 13 years he has been teaching there.

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I have been extremely busy the past two weeks – our semester is quickly winding down and the deadline for my Pentecost IconographyPhD applications are drawing close. Needless to say, I’ve neglected responding to secularist10 to focus on research papers and GRE prep! For that, I’m sorry. I’d love to offer a more thorough response, but a brief one will have to suffice for the moment. I’m just going to touch on a few issues that drive to the heart of what’s really going on here.

Secularist10 offers the following account of epistemology and the verifiability of an argument:

As human beings, we have questions. How do we answer these questions? By using (1) evidence and (2) arguments based on that evidence. Whichever argument or position or idea or philosophy has more evidence supporting it is the winner. It’s that simple. A corollary of this approach to understanding is that ideas or beliefs for which there is minimal evidence are to be looked upon with heavy skepticism and doubt, and, in the same way, claims for which there is no evidence are not to be accepted at all.

God is one idea for which there is no evidence.

This is fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough. For example, no one would argue that absence of evidence is evidence of absence. Furthermore, the evidence could be out of reach. You might be in a closed room with no windows when the lights go out. You cannot see everything, or occupy every space at that moment, so there might indeed be evidence somewhere that a ladybug is in the room with you. The fact that you could not prove this would not suddenly call into question the reality of the presence of that ladybug, it would merely be an epistemological hurdle for someone in a dark room.

On a second note, what’s admissible as evidence? Whose evidence? What courtroom? All of this assumes one’s own foundations for sweeping issues such as what constitutes knowledge, how we know things, how we can trust what we know, etc. So while the issue ultimately does become fundamental, it’s not really “that simple.” To say that we have no evidence for God is an amazing claim in and of itself. Such a declaration would presuppose access to all  knowledge, which under the approach of secularist10 doesn’t make sense.

The approach as outlined above by secularist10 (whether they actually hold to it or not) assumes that only what we can see, taste, touch, smell, etc. should be admissible as evidence. But this assumption needs to be substantiated. Anyone who claims objective knowledge of the world based upon empirical verification through a scientific method or whatever it is needs to demonstrate how that method is substantiated by something other than itself which can give it such weight. For Christians, this “something other” is God who has revealed himself not just in a set of canonical books we call Scripture, but definitively has drawn near to us in Jesus of Nazareth. Thus, any claims that humans cannot comprehend God have been eradicated by Yhwh, who himself has taken on our lowly condition by dwelling amongst us. He has given us the “hermeneutical key” (or more crudely, the “decoder ring”) of all of life: Jesus Christ.

All religions begin with a few underlying assumptions that are not supported by any proof, and which therefore require faith to accept.

Well, if we’re being honest, everyone does this. If that makes everyone “religious,” then ok. Everyone has a certain understanding, developed or not, of the perennial issues of “life, the universe, and everything,” to quote Douglas Adams. Each and every one of these understandings, or perspectives, eventually boils down to underlying assumptions that require faith to accept. This is unavoidable. Ultimately, what you have to do is look at those underlying assumptions and ask what they’re based on. Where do they come from? How do they make sense of everything?

Ideas are totalizing, so you cannot talk about something without at the same time talking about everything. Therefore, unless you can account for everything, you cannot account for anything. The burden for anyone rejecting Jesus Christ as God is to demonstrate how their own ideas make better sense of the world and do so without borrowing assumptions from the view they are rejecting. I believe this task is impossible for a naturalist, a mere “deist,” or what have you.

But let me be clear: that’s not why I am a Christian. I didn’t somehow gather together all of the various arguments, weigh them against one another, and then come to the enlightened conclusion that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, buried, and raised again on the third day to ascend to heaven and sit at the right hand of God, etc.

It is faith. But that’s hardly a reason to look askance upon that confession. Because, as I hope we can all agree upon by now, everyone has faith. But there’s substance behind my faith. The view of “life, the universe, and everything” that I get from Jesus Christ and the Scriptures that attest to him (Luke 24) makes sense of everything. No, I don’t “have it all figured out.” But God does, and he has revealed enough to me to trust that I don’t need to have it all figured out.

What I do know is that we are here for a very specific reason.  Because of our inherent pride, we fail to see that everyday and we’ve gone astray from the purposes for which we were created.  As a result, everything has suffered and we find ourselves separated from God.  Jesus Christ is the answer to this dilemma, the God who approaches man, and the only man who can approach God.  He has reconciled us through his death, resurrection, and ascension.  He is making all things new, and will one day eradicate every last sliver of pain and suffering we see.  That I cannot attempt to explain.  Hope baffles me.

For further reading, I encourage anyone interested in these issues to read N. T. Wright’s magisterial (and meaty) study on the resurrection: The Resurrection of the Son of God.

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Secularist10, who blogs over at 100 Treatises, has just responded to my post from last week on the uniqueness and indispensability of Christ with “Why I am a Secularist.”

I will respond to (her? him?) sometime this week as time allows. As any reader of this blog is aware, I’m a very rare author here in the first place!  I think Drew (and sometimes Kevin) are more the driving force of this thing.  But Secularist10 raises some points that are commonly leveled against Christians and I want to be sure we know what’s at stake with these claims, and perhaps reveal a few blindspots for Secularist10 and for most Christian attempts to defend the faith that can help move such discussions forward rather than backward.

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I posted yesterday about Christopher Hitchens’ thoughts on Christians that he’s debated and one reader responded with a different, secularist perspective (which we welcome here!).  I was going to respond to them in the comments section, but I found my response becoming a bit too long and figured I would put it up in a separate post since it had some serious thoughts on what makes Christianity unique.  This is by no means exhaustive, but only a surface-level introduction to ‘why Christianity’ rather than Islam, or Buddhism, etc.

Here we go….

1.  The existence of God cannot and does not need to be demonstrated.  It is evident and is no more subject to “proof” than “disproof.” This is not similar to anything else, no matter how hard we try to draw correlations to spaghetti monsters (cf. Bertrand Russell), etc.  Such elusive arguments actually fail to consider the definition of what they’re arguing about.  I’m not interested in arguing for the existence of “deity” in and of itself.  I’m an atheist in many respects:  I don’t believe in “Allah” or the god of Judaism or the gods of Mormonism, et al.  I believe in the one God revealed in Jesus Christ.  He has been seen and we have eye-witness testimony to this event and his deity. 

Rational proofs for/against the existence of some otiose deity dangling before our eyes are rather vain projections of our own minds onto a blank canvas (thank you Cornelius Van Til).  They are thus fruitless.  I can understand why a “secularist” would want to go down this road, but we share different presuppositions and thus have no neutral ground from which to argue.  Someone might retort and say, “Reason is the only neutral ground, why not simply agree to the dictates of logic and reason and then go from there?”  Ok, fine, but whose reason?  Reason is not an abstract, independent reality floating outside of actual people, outside of time and space.  Reason is built upon the foundations of beliefs that people assume without argumentation (“presuppositions).  Thus, reason is anything but neutral.  I might just as well say that your perspective assumes the non-existence of something you call “god,” for which there is no evidence.  I hope I’m being concrete enough with what I’m saying. 

Furthermore, we cannot speak of the “non-existence” of the God revealed in Jesus Christ because existence is part of his very definition.  To say otherwise would be to separate the signifier from signified.  Most people haven’t made the proper correlation between the two such that they posit the non-existence of something they claim is the Christian God, when in fact they have something wholly different in their sights.  This is what makes Richard Dawkins such an amateur in this respect and why no philosopher or theologian has yet to take him seriously.  Yhwh is self-existing (‘a se‘ in Latin), thus requiring no cause for himself, etc.

2.  SO, if we start from the fact of Jesus Christ, then we actually have something to work with.  We know about him through Scripture, which then leads to all sorts of questions as to how that’s interpreted, etc.  I don’t have time to get too far into this (I’m not going to convince anyone anyway), but the gospel - the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ alone from our sinful separation from God – is the basis for racial and sexual equality, for nonviolence, for the inherent value of human life.  Other religions might profess to hold to similar beliefs, but they are actually radically different. 

If you cannot see this, it is because you are not a follower of Christ.  So you can’t see the ways in which the value of human life is bound up with the fact that God has shared our time and space with us by assuming flesh, and in that same act, redeemed us.  You don’t understand what it means to be made in the image of Yhwh, rather than to made in the image of “god.”  You can’t see the intricacies of the many ways that the gospel breaks down social divisions and makes everyone equal beggars at the foot of the cross.  You don’t understand how race is a sinful human taxonomy that finds little basis in our ontology.  According to Scripture, you are either “in Christ” or “in Adam;” redeemed or not.  You don’t see how Grace removes privilege.  Neither can you see how the creating activity of a TRIUNE God (as opposed to any other “god”) ontologically grounds proper relations between the sexes and proper sexual relations.  You cannot grasp the depth with which Christ’s death on the cross puts an end to coercive force and violence.

My point is this:  I cannot show you all these things because you would not believe them, but Christian answers are just as hostile to other religions’ answers as your own brand of secularism is.  They are not the same, not even close.  Why do we all find an inherent need for racial equality, sexual equality, nonviolence, etc?  It cannot point to a condition prior to God’s creating activity.  If you posit that, then you have to explain how it is human life can have any inherent (read: not culturally or socially assigned) value in a secular system. 

Instead, the answer is that all of these things – these values and longings – are built into the fabric of who we were created to image.  Christians say that image is Christ.  When you begin to understand the colossal implications of that view, then you begin to understand how Christianity is not one religion amongst many.  Instead, it stands opposed to all forms of human religion.  It stands opposed to all human ideologies.  When it stands properly, it stands alone in this world as the consequence of a summons to discipleship; to humbly, obediently, and faithfully follow Christ, our creator and the only true image of God.

So, why not Islam?  Why not Judaism?  Why not Buddhism?  Why not secularism?  Why not any other “peaceful” religion?  Because they cannot explain everything and thus cannot explain anything.  That is a dogmatic claim, I realize.  But it gets back to my point in yesterday’s post about being sincere.  I’m not trying to convince, only clarify….

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George LucasThe best analogy I know to explain how sin is part of God’s plan is that of an author to his book or play.*  You have seen the first Star Wars movie right?  Not Episode 1, but the very first Star Wars movie ever made—Star Wars: Episode IV?  George Lucas, master of all things science fiction, wrote the screen play for Star Wars.

What happens at the end of Star Wars Episode IV?  Darth Vader and Obi Wan Kenobi fight and Darth Vader strikes Obi Wan down and kills him.  Is George Lucas responsible for killing Obi Wan?  We would not normally say that would we?  No we would say that Darth Vader killed Obi Wan, but who ultimately decided that this would happen?  George Lucas right?

darth-vaderOur response as we watch the movie unfold is that we want Vader to suffer for this crime. In fact the rest of the Star Wars movies are the quest to bring Vader to justice because we know that he is responsible for this murder!  None of us want to hunt down George Lucas and bring him to justice—why not?  Because it’s his play, it’s his movie and as it is his, he has every right to do what he wills with the characters in it.  In fact as the play unfolds we marvel at how Lucas builds the Rebels’ struggle against the evil Empire and we rejoice when we see evil conquered in the end.

God is the absolute controller of, and authority over, nature and history.  Ephesians 1:11 tells us that He works all things according to the counsel of His will.  God is the Lawgiver, we are the recipients of the Law, God is the head of His covenant, we are His servants, God is creator, we are His creatures.**  Do these differences not put God in a different moral category?

Very often in Scripture when something happens that calls God’s goodness into question, he pointedly refrains from explaining.  He even rebukes those who question him.

If you read the book of Job, Job continually demands and interview with God so that he can question God about the suffering he has gone through—you know what God says?

Job 38:1 Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: 2 “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? 3 Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. 4 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. 5 Who determined its measurements- surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?

In other words, God is saying to Job—unless you are Creator and know better than me, you have no right to question me!

Romans 9:19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use?

God is bigger than we are and operates on a different level than we do.  To the Lord, one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years is as one day.  God doesn’t conform to our ways.  God can sovereignly allow evil and yet not be guilty of committing evil because God is Holy.

Until Christ returns or we die and go to be with Him in heaven, we will never know exactly why God does everything He does.  Until then we will not see perfectly how God is working for good in the midst of evil, but we must trust that He is, because that is exactly what He promises!

*I basically took Wayne Grudem’s analogy of an author’s relationship to his play and applied the same ideas to Star Wars as Grudem did with Shakespeare and Macbeth (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology. 1994, 321-322).

**I should also admit to have been helped greatly at this juncture by John M. Frame’s The Doctrine of God.  I recommend the entire chapter on the Problem of Evil (pp 160-181).

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