New Books Defending Christianity

A Shot of Faith (to the Head): Be a Confident Believer in an Age of Cranky Atheists by Mitch Stokes (Thomas Nelson, 2012). 272 pages.

“. . . A Shot of Faith to the Head takes the best tools of top-notch apologetics and philosophy and puts them in the hands of every believer. Even better, it’s easy and fun to read, winsome, witty, filled with sharp thinking, and well-researched. As a professor and pastor, I’ll be assigning this book in my apologetics courses and would recommend it to every Christian. It displays strategic answers to questions and objections every Christian has encountered.” – Justin Holcomb, pastor, Mars Hill Church and adjunct professor of theology, Reformed Theological Seminary.

Inerrancy and Worldview: Answering Modern Challenges to the Bible by Vern Poythress (Crossway, 2012). 272 pages.

“To our shame, the response of Christians to challenges to our faith can often be dismissive, shallow, defensive, or disrespectful. On the other hand, we can err too much on the side of tolerance for error when truth is under siege. In Inerrancy and Worldview, Vern Poythress shows us how to be neither fools nor cowards. Through intelligent, informed, insightful, and respectful engagement, key foundational faith defeaters taught in many disciplines at every secular university are explained and critiqued from a biblical perspective. Poythress challenges the challenges to biblical belief at the root of their assumptions. We are left with a solid basis and defense of the Christian way of thinking. Inerrancy and Worldview should be required reading for all who want to think more deeply about their faith and defend it within a skeptical culture.” – Erik Thoennes, Professor of Biblical Studies and Theology, Talbot School of Theology, Biola University; Pastor, Grace Evangelical Free Church, La Mirada, California

Atheism’s New Clothes: Exloring and Exposing the Claims of the New Atheists by David H. Glass (InterVarsity Press, 2012). 336 pages.

(Visit the author’s blog here).

“The New Atheists are certainly vocal, but are they also reasonable? In this remarkably accessible book, David Glass exposes their frequent failure to understand what they attack, meticulously assesses their arguments, and then goes beyond critique to present a many-sided positive case – scientific, historical, and philosophical – for Christian theism. No other work on this subject combines such wide scope with such consistently high quality.’  – Timothy McGrew, Professor of Philosophy, Western Michigan University; Director, The Library of Historical Apologetics

Why Jesus?: Rediscovering His Truth in an Age of Mass Marketed Spirituality by Ravi Zacharias (FaithWords, 2012). 304 pages.

In Why Jesus?, the popular apologist examines humanity’s deep spiritual hungers and the common solutions presented by mass-marketed leaders of pop spirituality (Deepak Chopra, Oprah Winfrey, Eckhart Tolle, and so on). Ravi Zacharias exposes the empty promises of those who peddle spiritual advice at the expense of careful thinking and experiential wisdom. The book shows why issues of exclusivity, authority, and relevance are always pertinent to conversations about spirituality, and ends with a plea for people to understand Jesus as Truth. – Trevin Wax,  Managing Editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources and author of Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope.

 

Thinking Matters Tauranga: Is the Bible Reliable?

Next week Thinking Matters Tauranga is starting a new series titled Is the Bible Reliable? Building the Historic Case.

Is the Bible a book of myths and fairy tales, or is it a book of history and truth?  This DVD series provides a thorough overview of major archaeological and historical discoveries that demonstrate the veracity and accuracy of the Bible.  This series will help you to respond to critical arguments against the historicity of the Bible with solid evidence, and gain a better understanding of the geography, culture, and history of events in the Bible.

This is a fascinating look at the latest historical and archaeological evidences for the reliability of the Bible.  Those in the Tauranga area should put it in your calendars now so you don’t miss it!

View the trailer and get more information here.

WHEN:  All the Tuesdays in May:
Tuesday 1 May The Patriarchal Narratives and the Documentary Hypothesis.  The Exodus: From Egypt to Canaan.
Tuesday 8 May The Israelite Conquest. The United Kingdom of David and Solomon.
Tuesday 15 May A Tale of Two Conquests: Hezekiah versus Sennacherib.  The Babylonian Conquest of Judah.
Tuesday 22 May The New Testament: Canons of Historicity. The Early Composition of Luke and Acts.
Tuesday 29 May External Corroboration of the New Testament. The Trial of Jesus.

TIME: 7:30pm – 9:00pm

WHERE: Bethlehem Community Church, 183 Moffat Rd, Bethlehem, Tauranga, New Zealand.

FORMAT: 60 minute DVD lessons followed by discussions.  This is the second set of DVD’s from Focus on the Family’s True U series and is presented by Dr Stephen Meyer (author of Signature in the Cell).

COST: Free

Closing Thoughts on the Resurrection Debate

Over the last few months we’ve been hosting a formal written debate between myself and Malcolm Trevena on the historicity of the resurrection (see here, here, and here). Unfortunately I have decided to formally close the debate.

Before setting out on the exchange, Malcolm and I both agreed to several rules or guidelines for the debate. One of these was that we would reply to our opponent’s posts within five days. At the time, this sounded like it would afford plenty of opportunity to respond adequately to each other and keep the debate moving swiftly. While writing my opening statement however, I quickly realized that this would be a struggle to maintain. I therefore suggested to Malcolm that if he wanted to take a week or two to write a good response, then this would be fine with me and we could count the original guideline as flexible. Afterall, we are both active people with full, active lives. However, it has now been 5 weeks since I have heard anything from him. Not just a response to my first response, but any communication whatsoever. And so I believe it best that we close the debate and open it up to the readers for their comments.

I thought I would offer four reflections on the debate ending.

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Auckland Event: The Authenticity of the Gospels with Dirk Jongkind

Next month, Laidlaw College will be hosting Biblical Scholar, Dr Dirk Jongkind (Research Fellow in New Testament Text and Language at Tyndale House, Cambridge) for two lectures on the accuracy of the New Testament manuscripts and the make-up of the New Testament canon. Dr Jongkind is an international expert on New Testament manuscripts and both events should be well worth your time.

‘Original’ Text of the New Testament: A Comedy of Errors?
Tuesday 20 March | 7.30 – 9.00 pm | Followed by a light supper

Before the time of printed books, the New Testament was copied by hand. Errors are easily made and may even undermine the reliability of a text. What sort of things did go wrong in the copying of the Bible? How much deliberate editing was going on? And are the conspiracy theories right this time? We will think about the earliest evidence, look at some of the arguments made by every side, and get an overview of what sort of discussions are currently going on regarding the Greek text of the New Testament. No need to know any Greek.

The Gospels: Which Ones?
Thursday 22 March | 7:30 – 9.00 pm | Followed by a light supper

We have not only the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, we have also some other gospels, which are not part of the Christian New Testament. Among these are the Gospel of Thomas, of Mary, and even the Gospel of Judas. The last one was only re-discovered a few years back. What is there in these gospels, and why do they not form a part of the books the church uses?

Attendance is free but for catering purposes, please RSVP to Anne Segedin (asegedin@laidlaw.ac.nz) by Monday 19 March 2012.

For more info about about Dirk Jongkind, go here.

HT: Stuart

 

Part 3: In Defense of the Historicity of the Resurrection

This is the first reply in a formal written debate between Stuart McEwing and Malcolm Trevena. The question of the debate is “Is the resurrection of Jesus fact or fiction?”

Preliminaries

I would first like to thank Malcolm Trevena for his opening statement responding to my defense of the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus. I am grateful for the importance he places on the truth of the matter and that he chose to attack my arguments without attacking me. I hope to replicate this gentlemanly manner.

Introduction

To begin I would like to look back and recall my opening statement.

In support of my first contention that there are at least four facts which any adequate historical hypothesis must explain, I offered four facts, namely, the burial of Jesus after his crucifixion, the empty tomb, the post-mortem appearances, and that the disciples radically came to believe that Jesus rose bodily from the dead, and also outlined the reasons why each of those facts are commended to us by the majority of experts in the relevant fields.

In support of my second contention, the hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead  is the best explanation of the aforementioned facts, I assessed that hypothesis using the conventional criteria historians use for determining the best explanation.

I concluded that Trevena, in order to establish that the resurrection of Jesus did not occur, in the absence of some overwhelming proof of atheism, must propose an alternative naturalistic explanation of those facts which exceeds the resurrection hypothesis in fulfilling those criteria.

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A Brief Guide to Critical Thinking

Bridge 8 and animator James Hutson have created six two-minute animations on various aspects of critical thinking. The videos are designed for kids ages 8 to 10 but are also useful for grown-ups who might want an introduction to the basics of logic and the scientific method, as well as to psychological missteps like confirmation bias and the Gambler’s Fallacy.

Part 2: A Case for the Non-Historicity of the Resurrection

This is the second opening statement in a formal written debate between Stuart McEwing and Malcolm Trevena. The question of the debate is “Is the resurrection of Jesus fact or fiction?” Trevena makes his case for the resurrection being fictitious.

Thanks to Stuart McEwing for the chance to respond to the premise on the truth or lack thereof of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Why would I state that I don’t think Jesus was resurrected?  Is this a question that should even be debated in the first place?  Am I the Devil himself for even entertaining the thought?

There is a truth out there in the universe.  Either Jesus was or was not resurrected.  Mr. McEwing is either 100% correct or 100% wrong.  There is no middle ground here.

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Why don’t skeptics apply their standards of evidence to themselves?

We had a spirited debate on miracles in a previous thread. And during that debate, I noted how even in cases where all the evidence is against naturalistic explanations, skeptics simply cannot entertain a supernatural explanation instead. They just have to hold that there is a naturalistic one, despite the evidence.

The very definition of blind faith.

In reply, “Tom Joad” said:

To that, I would just say that you would expect there to be a natural explanation for unexpected events, or ‘miracles.’ In the absence of an obvious explanation, it would be a fantastically interesting process to find out what the actual cause was.

Since the comments in the previous thread have now closed automatically, let me pick up the conversation here.

Why is Tom applying such a different standard to himself as he’d apply to religious people? And why does this seem to happen so frequently with skeptics?

For example, skeptics often take issue with phenomena like “speaking in tongues” and “faith healings” and the like—which you’ll find in many happy-clappy churches, particularly in America.

They point out that these phenomena can be reproduced in non-religious settings, as well as in competing religious settings (Hinduism for example). Moreover, they can be thoroughly explained by neurology, and therefore a supernatural explanation is at best superfluous.

So they criticize Christians who believe that these events are “works of the Spirit” on two grounds: firstly, all the evidence points to a naturalistic explanation; secondly, the Christian’s supernaturalistic explanation is too exclusive to account for all the instances of this phenomenon.

Thus skeptics hold that it is irrational to favor a supernatural explanation over a natural one here.

But now compare this to Tom’s comments about miracles, and notice the double standard.

When it comes to a situation where the roles are reversed and all the evidence points to a supernatural explanation, while a naturalistic one is untenable, he seems to think that it is not only rational, but entirely reasonable to believe there still is a naturalistic explanation.

And he goes on to make some comments about the supposedly unreasonable nature of faith, inasmuch as if some particular miracle is discredited, “for 99% of Christians, this disproof of a supposed miracle would do nothing to dissuade their faith.” The implication, of course, being that a discredited miracle ought to give Christians occasion to reevaluate their faith.

But why? Notice again the double standard. Imagine if some element of evolution were discredited—indeed, this happens all the time as part of the scientific process. Does Tom think these occasions should cause him to reevaluate his belief in evolution? Are they likely to dissuade him from from that belief?

Of course not.

So why expect that of Christians? Since the faith of 99% of Christians doesn’t rest on some random miracle, but on a wide variety of evidences, it would be quite unreasonable to think that discrediting a random miracle would have any effect whatsoever on their faith.

Why do skeptics have such a hard time applying the same standards of evidence to themselves as they think are reasonable for Christians? I don’t know. Perhaps some skeptics could enlighten me in the comments.

Part 1: A Case for the Historicity of the Resurrection

This is the first opening statement in a formal written debate between Stuart McEwing and Malcolm Trevena. The question of the debate is “Is the resurrection of Jesus fact or fiction?”

Preliminaries

First, I would like to thank Mr. Malcolm Trevena for agreeing to debate me. I hope this exchange will benefit the both of us, as well as all the readers who persevere through to the end of this exchange. I will refer to my opponent from this point on by last name only, and hope that this convention for scholarly and professional decorum will not undermine the geniality of our exchange.

 

Introduction

The scandal of Christianity is that it is a religion grounded in historical events, which if they can be demonstrated to be false, would empty it of all meaning and power. Chief among those historical events is the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.[1] Accordingly, if Christians are to maintain that their faith is reasonable in the current mental environment, it will be crucial to establish the resurrection of Jesus is a true fact of history against critics who argue otherwise.

Most people when they come to Christ do not do so on the basis of historical research. Rather, they come to know the great truths of the gospel, such as God’s existence, of Christ’s atoning life, death and resurrection, on the basis of an experience with the risen Lord Himself. This experience I take as veridical, and a fully legitimate grounding of knowledge. Even though the Christian is warranted in believing what happened 2000 years ago without studying history or philosophy, throughout the course of this debate I will be making my case without reference to this appropriate ground of knowledge. Instead I will be attempting to show that Jesus was raised from the dead in a manner that any responsible and fair-minded historian could accept when this received revelation is absent.

In this debate I will be arguing that there is credible evidence for regarding Jesus’ resurrection from the dead as historical. Malcolm will be arguing the opposing position that Jesus’ resurrection should be regarded as unhistorical. Notice that between fact and fiction there is a third position possible; namely, that Jesus’ resurrection should not be regarded as historical or unhistorical, but rather that any determination of the sort should be regarded as unjustifiable on historical grounds. This agnostic position is compatible with Christianity, since Christians, as I have already noted, do not generally accept Christianity on the basis of historical research or philosophical speculation. What this shows is that no one in this debate is without a burden of proof. With this in mind, I will be defending two main contentions.

(1) There are at least four credible facts that any adequate historical hypothesis must explain, namely, the burial of Jesus after his crucifixion, the empty tomb, the post-mortem appearances, and that the disciples radically came to believe that Jesus rose bodily from the dead.

(2) The hypothesis God raised Jesus from the dead is the best explanation of those facts.

In this opening statement, I will first look at the historical data that can be recovered from that first Easter weekend. I will then evaluate the resurrection hypothesis: “God raised Jesus from the dead,” using the criteria for the best explanation.

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