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Miracles in Apologetics Part 2

I have long thought that a miracle can be an apologetic. It was one of the chief ways that God authenticated His word and His revelation. Today, with the resurgence of our awareness of miracles, it is important we think about how the testimony of miracles sounds to unbelievers, particularly those who are sceptical and philosophically opposed to Christianity and belief in God.

In order to develop an apologetic for God’s existence that reduces the opportunity for scepticism, based upon the testimony of miracles, I suggest that a miracle X meets the following criteria.

(1) Does X have a natural explanation?
If the answer is “Yes,” then X is merely a case for either God’s providence or second-order causation. What we will be focusing on here is first-order causation where a miracle is any event such that the natural conditions for said event were not present. 

(2) Is the miracle radical enough to assume that there is no yet to be discovered natural explanation to defeat it.

For example, the Egyptian magicians of Pharaoh could duplicate the miracles performed by Moses, but a point was reached when the magicians ability to duplicate the miracle was surpassed due to the large scale and spectacular nature. An ache in the belly with the tendency to come and go, when prayed for may disappear, but such an occurrence, though it may be a genuine miracle, would hardly be convincing. On the other-hand a regenerative miracle, where a blind man sees, a lame man walks, or deaf man hears, or a limb suddenly re-grows is more difficult to wave away as having a natural explanation.

(3) Did X happen within the context answered prayer.

The objection this counters is the chance hypothesis. The skeptic will claim that with six billion people in the world it is not unexpected that some people will be particularly lucky or experience miraculous-like events. However the plausibility of this hypothesis is reduced when it occurs in the context of prayer.

(4) Is X an isolated occurrence, or is there a high frequency of similar occurrences in the same context?

For instances explaining Jesus’ miracles away with natural explanations become increasingly contrived the more miracles there are that have to be explained.

(5) Did X happen instantly, or did it take a while?

This is not to say that miracles that take some time are less miraculous, but to say that miracles that happen instantly are the better spectacle.

(6) Was X permanent?

(7) Is X verified by experts in the field, ie. medical doctors and supporting evidence (x-rays, test results).

It will take skill to weigh and balance the above criteria – though they are not really criteria as a genuine miracle may not necessarily conform to every point. This is only a suggested checklist for use in an argument for divine causation, specifically to refute both Deism and Atheism. It is only a guideline to assessing the convincing power of a testimony, and to reduce the opportunity for scepticism and rejection.

Miracles in Apologetics Part 1

I am deeply concerned about a perceived attitude accompanying our rising awareness that miracles are a part of the normal Christian life. The danger in the resurgence of the miraculous, especially in so-called “healing-evangelism”, is an outlook that says all we need to prove God’s existence, and solve all our apologetic needs, is to believe, pray for a miracle, and let God do the rest.

The inadequacy of this as a principle in healing-evangelism and Christian practice is obvious. Consider the following two reasons.

The evangelistic call of every believer would be restricted to those instances where God does heal. The evangelist’s efforts would be curtailed and the knowledge of God reduced to only an experience. Besides this, if God did choose to intervene with the miraculous every-time so that he might convince someone of his existence, this would turn the universe into haunted house and it is entirely plausible to think that peoples hearts would harden. They might even become resentful of He who flaunts his power, or in all probability conclude His miracle was not a result of divine causation but a natural function of the universe.

The second reason is a miracle without an accompanying explanation of what it represents is near hopeless. The person will know themselves to be healed, but not know who healed them or why they were healed. In the wake of a miracle there is bound to be host of questions asked, concerning His good character, the reliability of the Bible, etc., and this needs someone trained in apologetics.

Let us not forget the pattern given to us in the book of Acts; wherever there is a miracles there is preaching and apologetics; wherever there is preaching and apologetics there are miracles. Both go hand in hand and one is not found without the other.

Now I must say that I do agree that desiring and seeking out opportunities for God to confirm His miraculous power to unbelievers is a very good thing. I also credit God with the intelligence to know what He is doing when he does choose to heal someone. Christianity after-all, is chiefly experiential, and experiencing the power of God; to heal, to empower, to be assured, and of regeneration from a being dead in your sin, is important, but that is not to say Christianity is not also a message of truth and hope that needs to be declared and defended. We must expand the propositional content of the gospel as well as the power of the gospel.

Have you ever wondered why the miracles of Jesus were so effective in confirming Christ’s message? Granted there were of a spectacular nature, but the greater reason, I believe, is that they were performed in a culture suffused with a super-natural worldview. The milieu of the time already believed in a miracle working God and was expectant of a messiah whose ministry would be characterised by the miraculous.

Our culture however is not. We live in a time and place that is post-christian, has a deeply entrenched secularism and an ever encroaching naturalism. In such a milieu, when someone is confronted with a miraculous circumstance the immediate response will be skepticism. If the miracle breaks down this initial barrier, there will arise soon afterward a profound question that is enormously problematic for someone trained to think that God is comparable to the “sugar-plum fairy.” It constitutes what missiologist call a ‘power encounter’ where for the first time, the unsaved man is open to accepting the message of the gospel.

More importantly to consider our culture, where there are alternative explanations of the miraculous, such as; the power of suggestion, hypnotism, charlatans playing mind tricks, and a new age pantheism where the universe heals itself. These alternatives need answering with apologetics. A hedge of prepared arguments is essential for the heeling-evangelist to protect their potential converts from counter-arguments levelled against the occurrence of miracles, divine causation and God’s existence, and to safe-guard the glory of God that He has won for himself by performing a miracle.

So miracles far from being the end of apologetics and arguments, presents a host of new questions seeking to be answered, new avenues calling for intellectual excellence and a renewed effectiveness of the proclamation of the gospel.

John M. Frame on Culture

For those who have been wrestling with the issue of culture recently (you know who you are!), John Frame has written a helpful piece on Christ and Culture. (This transcript appears in a revised form in the latest addition to his Theology of Lordship series, The Doctrine of the Christian Life).

“We have seen that culture is a mixed affair, the result of human sinful activity on the one hand, and God’s grace (common and special) on the other. Christians are not to leave culture alone or to limit their influence to the content of natural law. Rather they are to seek a transformation of culture through the whole Word of God.” (Doctrine of the Christian Life, pg 903).

HT to http://scottym.blogspot.com/2008/12/john-m-frame-on-culture.html for the link!

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John Lennox interviewed by CPX

The Centre for Public Christianity has some interviews with Professor John Lennox, a distinguished Christian thinker and author. Lennox has recently debated both Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. He is a professor in Mathematics at the University of Oxford and a Fellow in Mathematics and Philosophy of Science at Green College, at the University of Oxford (HT: Justin Taylor).


Other videos worth watching:

The evils of Christendom.

The evidence for God and the explanatory scope of science.

Science and faith, and the credibility of the Bible.

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Tim Keller interviewed at the Washington Post and other videos

Tim Keller sits down in an interview with Sally Quinn, one of the editors of Washington Posts On Faith discussion site. Keller discusses several questions, including his journey to become a Christian, certainty and the possibility of dialogue between Christians and agnostics, getting mad at God and suffering, and Kierkegaard’s definition of sin.

Source: JT and Kevin Cawley

Keller is the author of the best-seller The Reason for God, and also of a new book coming out this month, The Prodigal God, on understanding Christianity through the story of the prodigal son.

The Gospel Coalition has several other good segments of Keller answering more questions on their site:

Who are the New Atheists?

What is the New Atheist message? How should we engage them?

How do you respond when people say that science has buried God?

How is Christianity relevant for today’s culture?

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Hitchens vs Turek debate now online

The video from the debate between Christopher Hitchens and Frank Turek is now online. The debate was held at Virginia Commonwealth University, on September 9, 2008, with the topic “Does God Exist?”.

Frank Turek is the co-author of “I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist” and you can read his own impressions of the debate on his blog.


Christopher Hitchens/Frank Turek Debate from Larry M on Vimeo.

Source: In Defense of the Faith Apologetic Ministry

Michigan Invasion, Hitchens Debate Video, Help for UNC

I didn’t know what to expect when I landed in Detroit last Monday. A colleague there scheduled me for nine “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist” events in seven days all over the state: Four at secular universities, two at a Christian high school, and three at churches up north. It was like an invasion, and God made it an amazing success. Here are the highlights:

  • Each of the first four nights I presented I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist at a different university. We started at Eastern Michigan University on Monday night, and then hit Central Michigan University, Oakland University and Michigan State on successive evenings. Michigan is, of course, nowhere near the Bible belt, but we had 150 to more than 300 students each of the first three nights.
  • A number of atheists put me on the hot seat each night with questions and counter arguments even long after the session was to end. Most of the arguments they brought up were either weak or based on such fundamental philosophical mistakes, that they make me even more confident that Christianity is true. I kept thinking, “This is the best you’ve got?” Several Christians were greatly encouraged and, at a couple of events, even stood up and said that they loved the scientific arguments for God.
  • The event on Thursday night at Michigan State had about 80 people (publicity was lacking on that campus), but it actually turned out for the good. I had more time to address the half of the audience that was from an atheist club! After hearing my arguments for absolute truth and the existence of God for 90 minutes, these atheists (and several Christians) stayed for another 90 minutes asking questions and debating certain points! While some atheists were adamant about their position, several were visibly shaken in light of the evidence for God. At least one student, who had left the faith, is now on his way back. God may have planted other seeds as well.
  • The Church and High School events Friday through Sunday were also well attended (even some atheists showed up there!). We had more than 300 on Friday night in Traverse City and 400-500 on Sunday night in Alpena. One young lady who attended works for Michael Moore (yes, that Michael Moore). She told me that she is now coming back to the faith! (I don’t know how that will affect her employment.)
  • We are now planning another visit up there to conduct part 2 of I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, and possibly to train a group of apologists to minister on campuses across the state.

One sad observation: As I handed out fliers on one of the campuses, so many of the students I greeted had the look of emptiness on their faces. They were like walking zombies. They reminded me of how people looked on the streets of Moscow during the height of the Soviet Union. Why? Because there is no hope in atheistic materialism which is the dominant view on campus. Thankfully, due to your donations and those of some Christian groups on campus, the events were free to everyone! Because of you we were able to share the hope of Christ with compelling evidence to back it up. Thanks for making a difference in the lives of the students and adults who attended and those they will now influence for Christ.

In other news, we had a very successful event at UNC Charlotte on September 23 with about 150 in attendance. We have already scheduled part 2 for February 12, 2009. Over the next month, I’ll present at colleges in Tennessee and Texas, and then UNC Wilmington on November 10 and UNC Chapel Hill on November 11. (Click here for the calendar.)

While we are scheduled, we do not have our costs covered for the upcoming UNC events. Can you help us bring truth to those students and others? If so, please click here. (Campus events cost several thousand dollars to put on, but the payback is eternal!)

Finally, click here (our blog) to see my debate from September 9th with Christopher Hitchens. It’s over two hours, so get comfortable. I’d like to hear your opinion, so please drop me an e-mail or put a comment on the blog.

Blessings,

Frank

Dr. Frank Turek
Founder & President of CrossExamined.org
Speaker and co-author of:
I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist
Legislating Morality

A god who let us prove his existence would be an idol

A god who let us prove his existence would be an idol. — Deitrich Bonhoeffer

I recently came across this quote on someone’s Facebook wall. I don’t remember whose wall, but what it said surprised me. One reply said something like “so now God’s non-existance is evidence that he exist?” presumably with as much sarcasm as possible. Well I thought that needed a response. Then a word about the role of natural theology.

Thinking afterwards I should have said Bonhoeffer was not giving an argument for God’s existence, but was making a statement from within a theistic world-view about the practice of using arguments for God’s existence. Now I think this particular statement does not bear scrutiny in the light of God’s word. But I will get to that.

Immediately I thought of Gordon Clark and Cornelius Van Til who argued that arguments for God’s existence ultimately describe a lesser being than the God revealed in the Bible. For example certain cosmological arguments arrive at a transcendent, omnipotent, immaterial, omniscient, personal God, but not an omni-benevolent or holy and righteous God. Therefore, in Clark’s view, the argument created an idol. 

To presuppositionalists like Clark I would say we don’t need to argue for the full revelation of God. Also, no argument purports to disclose the fullness of the God of the Bible. If we can establish a transcendent, omnipotent, immaterial, omniscient, personal being with one argument, that will go a long way to achieving the apologetic goals, and then we can move onto other attributes with other arguments later. Perhaps omni-benevolence with the moral argument. This type of cumulative case is in vogue today, especially with William Lane Craig, J. P Moreland, Norman Geisler and more. With a cumulative case such as this, if successful it would be sufficient evidence to refute atheism, and to build up a Christian world-view. 

I then thought it more likely that Bonhoeffer is an existential philosopher like Søren Kierkegaard and is making a statement to support Fideism. A viewpoint that scripture clearly contradicts (See 1 Peter 3:15; Jude 3; Titus 1:7, 9). Suffice to say I am not a fideist, but am in fact the exact opposite – an apologist. We should always be ready, as scripture commands, to “tear down misleading arguments and every high place [fig., arrogance] lifting itself up against the knowledge of God, and bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” 2 Cor 10:5. 

Moreover, I think Romans 1:20 and 2:15 (that God has revealed himself in nature and conscience) opens a door to a natural theology (meaning we can argue for God’s existence from the evidence he has left in nature). We cannot see the invisible God, but we can see the visible work of his hands. In so doing we follow the long-standing tradition, from Paul in Acts 17 to Augustine to Aquinas, of defending the faith and giving reasons why we believe to all who dissent or ask why.

It turns out that Bonhoeffer is liberal/neo-orthodox, which means I was pretty much right on. Disillusioned somewhat with liberal theology and influenced by Karl Barth he was a leading figure in the Confessing Church – most famous for subverting the Nazi regime. He was involved in plots planned by members of the Abwehr (the German Military Intelligence Office) to assassinate Hitler. He was arrested in March 1943, imprisoned, and eventually executed by hanging. An interesting fellow no doubt, but mistaken here in this quote. 

What I wanted make clear was the role of Natural Theology and how it should be used. I would say it confirms the witness of the Holy Spirit to our spirit, and provides supplementary support for belief in God. The Holy Spirit is God’s primary evidence or testimony of His existence, to us and to other non-believers, but the Holy Spirit can use the arguments of Natural Theology in order to draw men to Himself. As Blaise Pascal said, God has placed the correct balance of evidence of Himself in the world; enough to draw men freely to himself, but not enough to compel people to believe on Him who would not trust or love Him. 

Some of Natural Theology’s arguments for God’s existence includes Cosmological, Teleological, Moral and Ontological.

That is what I really wanted to say.

Stuart McEwing

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The purpose of Thinking Matters and apologetics

Darryl Burling recently asked the Thinking Matters Contributor mailing list,

What is the purpose of thinking matters? I know the answer that is here, but what I want to understand is what constitutes success? What is the purpose of “examin[ing] and explain[ing] the defense of the Christian faith”? I have my ideas but want to know what others think.

1. The purpose of Thinking Matters is primarily to provide a “common area” for New Zealand apologists. Our aim is to give some focus to the various individuals and groups in New Zealand who would otherwise be doing their own thing without much awareness of the efforts of others. In that vein, I think we’ve been fairly successful already; although admittedly we need a new injection of enthusiasm to galvanize some further action.

2. Because of (1), the purpose of apologetics is not something that Thinking Matters, as an organization, has taken a specific position on. I think it has, so far, been sufficient simply that we all agree apologetics is necessary and important. The views of the individuals who contribute to TM may differ on the precise purpose of apologetics—some widely. Similarly, our views on apologetics methodology may differ. As you know, I’m strongly presuppositional. But to be a well-rounded apologetics organization, I think we also need some classical and evidential apologists filling out the mix.

3. For my own part, I believe that apologetics is an important pre-evangelical, and post-evangelical discipline.

(i) In terms of pre-evangelism, apologetics is often necessary to remove the epistemic defeaters to Christian belief. Since faith is rational, we cannot expect it to obtain in situations which would render it irrational; such as when people hold strong beliefs which contradict that faith. This is especially important given that we aren’t living in a Christian society any more, but a post-Christian one. People are increasingly skeptical of Christian faith-claims because they increasingly (a) fail to understand them, and (b) are influenced by scientism/modernism (I don’t believe post-modernism has actually had the societal effect some people think it has had). Apologetics in this context isn’t only or even perhaps primarily about laying the groundwork for evangelism itself; as you commented to me privately, the rational defense of the faith is a necessary condition for “ensuring ongoing freedom to be Christian in an increasingly hostile, left brained, rational and intellectual world.” Christianity needs champions in the academic arena to show that our faith is intellectually justified and defensible. This is very important in the universities in particular, since they are the breeding grounds for the upcoming movers and shakers in society—and they are largely secular.

(ii) In terms of post-evangelism, apologetics is extremely important for dealing with doubts, and for growing in faith. Again, faith is rational—so where defeaters exist for it, cognitive dissonance occurs. This can be really damaging; especially for people who are converted through more emotional and less intellectual means. A lot of people have powerful conversion experiences, but then later when they start to really think about their faith, and perhaps share it with others, they encounter a lot of objections and doubts. This is especially true online, where there are lots of New Atheists who are highly hostile to Christianity, and have prima facie reasonable objections to faith, backed up by a lot of attitude which replaces the work of actual reasoning and underwrites the appearance of a righteously indignant worldview which opposes Christianity because it is so irrational. Without apologetics, this can be fatal to faith. Christians need to know that (a) doubts are not sinful; and (b) that answers do exist. And currently, I don’t believe that most pastors in New Zealand are actually equipped to provide the sorts of answers that some Christians may need. A lot of questions are not really considered seriously and addressed, so much as dismissed and swept under the rug (particularly in less conservative churches; I think Pentecostalism has a lot to answer for with its generally anti-intellectual, emotion-based faith).

Note that none of this is to say that faith is only rational. Thinking Matters’ declaration of belief is thoroughly Reformed in its view (albeit implied) that faith is an actual ontological change caused by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the new believer. However, it’s important to still affirm that faith is rational; and that because it is rational, doubts will occur where certain presuppositions or beliefs conflict with it. Apologetics is a means God uses to defeat unbelief, and to then preserve the saints in faith.

That’s my view, at least. Other contributors are welcome to chip in with their own.

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Douglas Groothuis Reviews Christopher Hitchens' God is Not Great

image Professor Douglas Groothuis reviews Christopher Hitchens’ book God is Not Great in this interview on Issues, Etc.

Full MP3 Audio here.

Douglas Groothuis’ blog here.
Subscribe to Issues, Etc. in iTunes.

Enjoy.

New Apologetic Articles from the Christ on Campus Initiative

The Christ on Campus Initiative is a newly set up ministry of the Gospel Coalition for the goal of addressing the needs of university students with the truth and relevance of Christianity. One of the central purposes behind the establishment of Thinking Matters here is to see Christianity more rigorously defended in the marketplace of ideas and especially on the campuses of our universities, arguably a potential fountainhead of dialogue and inquiry.

With this purpose in mind, it is important that campus ministries have available the right resources and apologetic tools for meaningful engagement. And this week, in conjunction with the Henry center, two more articles were added to the CIC page that would be quite helpful to anyone wanting to be aware of some of the apologetic issues involved in student ministry. Each of the articles is over twenty pages in length (in pdf format) but are certainly worth the time invested. 

“Do Christians Have a Worldview?” by Graham Cole.

This article discusses the frames of reference that shape our lives. Professor Cole examines what it is that makes up a worldview, the tests of explanatory power and existential livability. He looks at the touchstone of propositions that form the heart of Christianity and its central subplots (creation, fall, rescue, restoration), how these address reality and the human condition and then finally why Christianity claims to be more than merely a way to look at the world.

“Jesus of Nazareth: How Historians Can Know Him and Why It Matters” by Craig L. Blomberg.

Distinguished professor of the New Testament at Denver Seminary in Colorado, Blomberg surveys the historical evidence for Jesus and examines the reliability of the Christian documents. Comparing the “Christ of faith” with the actual data we have available, he weighs the non-Christian sources, the synoptic gospels, John’s gospel and the gnostic material. Blomberg argues that the Christian portraits do stand up to scrutiny and in fact enable the message of the New Testment to be seriously considered.

“I Believe in Nature: An Exploration of Naturalism and the Biblical Worldview” by Kirsten Birkett

Birkett, from Oak Hill Theological College in London, discusses the worldview of naturalism and the Biblical response to it. In four parts, she first maps out the some of the significant figures in the history of the development of science and then in part two tackles the question of what is science: its methods and limits. The third segment explains the Bible and the Natural World; how Christianity can properly account for an intelligible and orderly universe and indeed encourages the flourishing of science. In the final part, Kirsten looks at Naturalism – the problems of power, morality and the inability of the worldview to explain the broad complex reality of human life.

“A Christian Perspective on Islam” by Chawkat Moucarry

Moucarry has served as the Director of Inter-Faith Relations for World Vision International since 2006, and in this massive 40 page article offers an insightful appraisal of the relevant issues invovled in the dialogue between Christianity and Islam. He responds to some of the central criticisms of the Bible from the Muslim perspective and sets out positive evidence for the trustworthiness of the Christian documents. He then addresses some of the central doctrines of both faiths (God, Jesus Christ, Sin and Forgiveness, Muhammed, and the kingdom of God) and defends the uniqueness and credibility of the Christian positions.