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Posts Tagged ‘apologetics’

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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First things first, if you struggle with the idea that God is good and yet we live in world plagued by both natural and moral evils, you are NOT a dummy.  I was just having fun with the title here–you have seen those books right?  Personal Finance for Dummies or Building a Website for Dummies and many other such helpful topics.  The idea behind the dummy books is that they break down a difficult topic in a very simple way.  They cut out all the jargon and write in such a way that just about anyone can understand.  The problem of evil is a problem for many, but not for God–He has it figured out, but that doesn’t mean that many Christians don’t struggle with it and that doesn’t mean that we don’t need to think Biblically about it. So this post is dedicated to breaking the problem of evil down to simple terms without the typical theological jargon that so often keeps people from understanding the real issues behind it.

There are three basic options for Christians in answering the question, “How can God be good and yet there is evil in the world?” I will give you the three options and point out the inherent problem with each.  These three options are as follows:

1.  God is just as surprised about evil and sin in the world as we are.  Why is that?  Because in this position, God does not know the future.  God has given man such profound freedom that man can and often does thwart God’s purposes.  In this view God created the world good but man decided of his own freewill not to follow after God and so sin came into the world and God had to respond to it just like we do–he did not know before hand that man would choose to sin.  So God responds to sin in real-time just like we do.

There are two big problems with this view. First is that it denies God’s holiness.  God has no special knowledge, He is perhaps a little bigger than us, but if He didn’t know evil was coming, can we really trust Him?  Is such a limited God worth serving?  How can we trust that He will keep any of His promises if He does not know the future?   The second big problem with this view is that it makes little sense of Scripture.  Think of all the thousands of prophecies in Scripture that have been fulfilled–how could this be possible if God doesn’t know the future and we are so free as to be able to thwart God’s purposes?

Ephesians 1:11 says that God “works all things according to the counsel of His will” and Romans 8:28 says God “works all things together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.”  How could those two verses be true if God doesn’t know the future?  Futhermore, Psalm 139 tells us that “before a word is on my tongue, behold O LORD, you know it altogether.”  So in short this view makes little sense of Scripture and gives us no reason to trust that God will keep His promises.

2.  Position #2:  God knew that evil would come into the world but He did not will for it to happen.  Because God knew beforehand that evil was going to enter into the world, He planned to fight it and overcome it through the cross of Christ.  This view is convenient because it gets God off the hook–He didn’t will evil in any way and praise Him, He has determined to overcome it!  Well let’s think this position out a little more.  If God knows that something is going to happen and has the ability to stop it and doesn’t, how is He not in some sense willing that thing to happen?  Those who hold this position, if they will be consistent, must admit that there is some defect in God’s power at some level.  Position #1 is actually more consistent, because God cannot know that something is going to happen and have the power to stop it and be said NOT to have willed the thing to happen.  So position #1 is more consistent because they just say God doesn’t have the power to stop it because He doesn’t know the future and has given us such potent freewill.

The two big problems with position #2 are similar to position #1’s problems.  First, this position fails to uphold God’s perfect holiness.  As I have said position #2 must admit some defect in God’s power or else how could we say God did not will something that He could stop but didn’t (and He knew it was coming beforehand)?  Secondly, this position doesn’t compute with Scripture, which testifies that God is all powerful–“if one wished to contend with [God], one could not answer Him once in a thousand times” (Job 9:3; c.f. Romans 9:19-21 and Job 38:1-5).  Simply put there are many evil things that happen in the Bible which God speaks to having in some sense willed.  Take Job for example.  God gave Satan permission to test Job with all sorts of nasty afflictions and set boundaries around what Satan could and couldn’t do (Satan could not take Job’s life).  So who is ultimately in control of what is going on with Job?  God or Satan?  I think the answer is obvious.

3.  Position #3: God knew that evil would infiltrate our world and yet He is good and not the author of it, but is sovereignly in control of it.  God sovereignly permits sin to occur though He is not the author of it.  He could have prevented it, therefore God in some sense wills that sin occur.  The common objection to this view is that God is made out to be in some round about way, responsible for evil.  But why are we willing to sacrfice God’s holiness (i.e. His perfect knowledge and power) for the sake of letting God off the hook for evil?  Simply put, God is bigger than you and I, He is holy, meaning He is set apart from us.  He operates on a completely different level than we do.  Things that are evil for us are perfectly legitimate for God.  Like the taking of a life–God created all things, including us and has rights over us.  If God wants to take one of His creatures lives, He can, He is God.  In addition we are all rebels against Him in our sin (Romans 3:23, 5:10; 6:23) and our just punishment is spiritual and physical death.

We must come to grips with this simple fact, that God is holy.  There is mystery in God–how is it that He is good (Psalm 119:68; James 1:17; Luke 18:19) and yet, over and over in Scripture we see Him soveriegnly controlling evil events for His good purposes?  We can’t fully answer that question because we are not God.  We are limited in our perspective where God is not.

Bottom line is that God soveriegnly controls evil. We have already discussed Job, but what about Joseph?  His brothers did a wicked thing and cast him into a pit then sold him into slavery (they wanted to kill them but Reuben convinced them otherwise).  Joseph went through many trials but eventually ended up basically running the country for Pharoah and through his wisdom, ended up saving the nation from starvation.  When Joseph’s brothers show up begging for food, Joseph says to them, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”

God can and does work good out of evil, He even has purposes for it.  In short He controls it–think about the cross.  Was the cross not an evil event?  The cross was the greatest sin ever committed because the sinless one was crucified at the hands of sinful men!

Acts 4:27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

Acts 2:23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.

1 Samuel 2:6 The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. 7 The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts.

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What is good?  What is goodness?  How do you know what is good?  Who gets to define what is good?

Dictionary.com (one of my favorite sites btw–I know I am a nerd!) defines good as “morally excellent, virtuous, righteous, or pious.”

But what in our world fits that definition?  We could mention a lot of things–loving others, serving others, giving to the needy, and cultivating friendships are all good things right?  But who gets to decide what is truly good, what is best?  Who decides what is good?

There are two possible answers to this question:

1.  People–we, men and women, get to decide what is good based on what we think is best for ourselves and perhaps society.

2.  God–God, being creator of this universe, decided in eternity past what is good.  To truly understand what is good we must submit to Him.

Let’s play out this scenario.  If we get to decide what is good–then there is no objective standard for goodness.  Many postmoderns would readily admit that they believe that there is no objective standard of good or evil.  Lets play this thinking out just a little–if there is no objective standard for what is good, then my goodness is mine and yours is yours.  So what happens when my goodness rubs up against yours?  One of us is going down right?

What if I believed that everyone should wear blue jeans because shorts are evil–that is foundational to my internal standard of goodness.  I believe it so fervently, that I think everyone should wear blue jeans all the time and people who wear shorts are evil and the world is better off without them.  Seems like a crazy view to have right?  But if I really believe this and am going to live consistently in light of what I believe, I am going to do everything I can to take all you short-wearers down!

Sounds silly right?  Well it’s not too far from what other people think–think about the radical Islamic terrorists that flew those planes into the World Trade Center.  They thought what they were doing was right and good.  To them it was a good thing to fly those planes into those buildings and kill thousands of people. They felt that it was worth giving up their lives and killing others to serve their standard of goodness.

You will object that its just religious radicals that are accomplishing such evil feats based on their worldview.  Well what about what many secular people think is good.  Take abortion for instance, most secular folks believe that abortion is some sense a good thing–saves women and children from poverty and difficulty etc.  If you think that abortion is good on some level, how long until partial birth abortion is considered good, then what is keeping us from believing in the moral goodness of infanticide for those mothers who cannot afford an abortion?  If we give into infanticide, what is keeping us from getting rid of anyone in particular that we deem doesn’t deserve to live because they interfere with our standard of goodness or because we think we now what is good for them and it is not to live?  Sounds crazy right–if you believe that unborn children are children, then these sorts of things are the next logical steps.

If people define what is good, our standard of goodness will be me-centered and selfish.  I will determine what is good primarily on what is good for me.  If the God of the Bible, however defines what is good, then goodness is perhaps more others-centered.

When asked what the greatest commandment is, Jesus responded by saying, “to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and the second is like it, to love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:29-31).  He also tells us that greater love has no one than this “that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:33).  When called “good teacher,” Jesus makes clear what calling him “good” implies by saying, “no one is good but God alone.”  So when you call Jesus good you are calling Him God!  And only God is good.  The Bible tells us that no one is good (Romans 3:10)–sin has corrupted us in a profound way such that we have become consummed with ourselves and apart from God’s help we will remain that way.

Only through God can we truly know what is good and only through His son can we be restored to a right understanding and appreciation of goodness.

“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

True goodness, true love is defined by God and He has most profoundly demonstrated it to us through Christ’s death and resurrection on behalf of those who are not good!

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