The latest Christian news, views and discussion.

Debate: Women in the Bible and the Qur'an

The Acts 17 Apologetics blog, Answering Muslims, has uploaded and posted video from the recent debate between Mary Jo Sharp and Tabasum Hussain. The debate was held in Ontario, Canada and compared the Bible and the Qur’an’s views of women.

Mary Jo Sharp holds a M.A. in Christian Apologetics with honours from Biola University and is a Certified Apologetics Instructor with the North American Mission Board (Southern Baptist Convention). Check out her website Confident Christianity here and her blog here. Last year, she debated the topic “Was Jesus Crucified” with Ehteshaam Gulam.

The video for this debate is in four parts.

Opening Statements:

First Rebuttals:

Second Rebuttals and Q and A:

Final Statements:

(HT: Stand to Reason)

Closer to Truth Interviews William Lane Craig

Robert Lawrence Kuhn, host of the show Closer to Truth, interviews Christian philosopher William Lane Craig about philosophical theology, cosmology, and other issues. Unfortunately the site doesn’t allow it’s videos to be embedded, but here are the links:

Arguing God from First Cause?

Can God Change?

Considering God’s Existence?

Did God Create From Nothing? (Part 1 of 3)

Did God Create From Nothing? (Part 2 of 3)

Did God Create From Nothing? (Part 3 of 3)

Did God Create Multiple Universes?

Did God Create Time?

How Could God Know the Future? (Part 1)

How Could God Know the Future? (Part 2)

How Free is God?

How is God the Creator? (Part 1 of 2)

How is God the Creator? (Part 2 of 2)

Is God All Knowing?

Is God Temporal or Timeless? (Part 1 of 2)

Is God Temporal or Timeless? (Part 2 of 2)

The site also has a useful summary of some of Craig’s scholarly contributions to the debates about the existence and nature of God here.

Why Apologetics Matters

Aside from the biblical injunctions to refute objections to our faith (2 Corinthians 10:5) and be ready to give a reasoned defense for it (1 Peter 3:15), there other excellent reasons for all Christians to get involved in apologetics. A strong emphasis on apologetics yields enormous benefits both to Christians personally, for the church generally, and for society at large.

So then, what are some of the benefits of apologetics? Here are three:

1. It encourages believers

Apologetics enhances the boldness and self-image of the Christian community. John G Hager writes of the early church,

Whether or not the apologists persuaded pagan critics to revise their view of Christians as illiterate fools, they succeeded in projecting for the group as a whole a favorable image of itself as the embodiment of true wisdom and piety […] Whatever we may say about the expressed purpose of these apologies, their latent function was not so much to change the pagan image of Christians as to prevent that image from being internalized by Christians themselves.1

Historically, theology was the crowning glory of a university education. The first universities in Europe and America were all Christian institutions, founded by Christians on biblical principles for the express purpose of honoring God. Thus the interface between Christianity and secular society was one of rich philosophical sophistication. Today, theology—the queen of the sciences—has been cast from court. As a result, the church has progressively become culturally insular.

However, the queen is not without her allies. Philosophy is her handmaid; and as a second-order discipline which discovers the presuppositions and ramifications of every other discipline, it is uniquely positioned to act in her stead while she is exiled from western universities. Philosophy’s sub-disciplines include logic (principles of right reasoning), epistemology (the study of knowledge), metaphysics (the study of reality) and value theory (ethics and aesthetics), which can all aid in fostering an environment where Christianity can once again be held in high esteem. The self-image of Christians in a philosophically sophisticated environment will be enhanced, and the relationship between the church and society elevated.

It is well known that a group, especially one in the minority, will be vital and active only if it feels good about itself in comparison with outsiders. Further, there will be more tolerance of internal group differences, and thus more harmony, when a group feels comfortable with outsiders.2

If Christianity has a self-image problem today, the solution is clear. It is time for seminaries and Bible colleges to offer more than a mere paper, here or there, on philosophy or apologetics. It is time for churches to foster the intellectual lives of their people, and offer more than simpering devotional thoughts.

Confidence in personal witnessing

The greatest hindrance to evangelism is fear of disgracing the faith. We dread not knowing what to say, or being unable to answer some objection. The study of apologetics is training in not merely overcoming this problem, but in tackling it with confidence and enthusiasm. It is therefore a valuable tool for evangelism.

Answers in personal intellectual struggles

A growing faith is an enquiring faith. A Christian enlarged by his commitment to study is the beneficiary of a faith that is built on solid rock. Christianity is not meant to be brain-dead or vapid, but alive and engaging with the world of ideas.

In fact, the Christian faith is a unique religion—the only one truly unafraid of questions. Jesus said, “I am the truth” (John 14:6), and surely God’s truth is larger than our small doubts. We are encouraged to ask questions, to subject the received word to intellectual rigor (see Acts 17:11), and to study profoundly. This is a way to obey the greatest commandment, loving the Lord with all our minds (Mark 12:30). As Christian philosophers and apologists William Lane Craig and J P Moreland put it,

Study is itself a spiritual discipline, and the very act of study can change the self. One who undergoes the discipline of study lives through certain types of experiences where certain skills are developed through habitual study: framing an issue, solving problems, learning how to weigh evidence and eliminate irrelevant factors, cultivating the ability to see important distinctions instead of blurring them, and so on. The discipline of study also aids in the development of certain virtues and values; for example, a desire for the truth, honesty with data, an openness to criticism, self-reflection and an ability to get along nondefensively with those who differ with one.”3

Assurance in times of trouble

[The seed that fell] on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away (Luke 8:13, NIV).

When tragedy strikes, what is it that keeps a believer believing? What is it that keeps a tree unmoved in a gale? The answer is the same for both: roots.

Apologetics is one way a person can develop a strong root system. Such a person is not easily swayed by the arguments of others or the winds of doubt. They have developed an assurance and deep source of nourishment that was hard won out of persistence and dedication to study.

2. It vindicates Christianity in the world

From these personal factors in the lives of believers, apologetics works as a force which can shape and maintain a cultural milieu in which Christianity can be heard as an intellectually viable option. It is clear that the most influential culture shaping institution in today’s western world is no longer the church. In New Zealand the university and the media stand out as the prominent cultural movers. Unless Christians rise up and become the deans and professors, the executive producers and directors, these institutions will lead society into a deeply entrenched secularism.

Why does this matter? Because the gospel is never heard in isolation, but always against the backdrop of the cultural milieu in which it is proclaimed. The eminent Princeton theologian J Gresham Machen says:

God usually exerts [his regenerative] power in connection with certain prior conditions of the human mind, and it should be ours to create, so far as we can, with the help of God, those favorable conditions for the reception of the gospel. False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the gospel. We may preach with all the fervor of a reformer and yet succeed only in winning a straggler here and there, if we permit the whole collective thought of the nation to be controlled by ideas which prevent Christianity from being regarded as anything more than a harmless delusion. Under such circumstances, what God desires us to do is to destroy the obstacle at its root.4

It is the broader task of apologetics to accomplish this.

There’s an anecdotal account of several secular humanists who met in a backyard in the 1970s. These promising young talents were to become the movers and the shakers in later decades. Together, with warm fruit punch in hand, they discussed how they might rid America of Christianity. They outlined a plan that included politics, education, and media; then outlined objectives for ten years, then twenty, then thirty. Meanwhile, over the fence, a group of Christians met together for a Bible study.

Today we live in a culture that is the result of that meeting. Whether true or not, the story serves as powerful warning not to repeat the mistakes of the past. The illustration points out the detrimental effects of being so culturally insular one is unaware of, and unable to respond to, those “over the fence.” While there is nothing with holding a Bible study, the Christians here should have also been strategizing as to how they might win the culture for Christ.

It is our responsibility to think well, hard and deep about this issue. Any effective strategy will be long-term, multi-faceted and collaborative. Lord, help us in this most important task!

3. It provides double-warrant for belief

Christianity is chiefly an experiential faith. One feels the Spirit of God within, and senses His prompting and the deep inner peace that only he can give. We intuitively recognize when the drive for transcendence is completely satisfied by Christ. This existential need and fulfillment comprises sufficient warrant for belief.

However, there are many other religions and people—even atheists—who claim similar conversion experiences sufficient to warrant their beliefs as well. It may be these are due to psychological and physiological factors. Radical changes in lifestyles and well-being can be attributed to sociological factors, and association with new people.

Now, these experiences and sociological factors do not invalidate the Christian’s own spiritual experience. A believer in Christ still has sufficient warrant to justify his belief on experience alone. But what these similar claims do accomplish is to give a seeming parity of warrant for other beliefs, making it hard to argue against them. For example, a Mormon will claim a “burning in the bosom”—Mormon experiences and Christian experiences, from an external point of view, are matched equally. There is a deadlock in determining which beliefs are true.

Enter apologetics. The subjective experience, when resting upon other objectively truthful propositions, will tower over other rival worldviews, casting a shadow of doubt upon them. This second justification, or double-warrant, provides clear comparative superiority for Christian truth-claims. Apologetics makes the step up to double warrant possible by giving good reasons to believe the Bible, and good reasons to not believe opposing points of view.

The emotions and the intellect can and should be united in the purpose of confirming and recommending the faith. Failure to integrate the emotional and experiential aspects of Christianity with the rational and intellectual apprehension of the truth of Scripture will lead to falling away from that truth. When I was fifteen I knew at once and for sure that I was right to believe that Christianity was good and true. A familiar quiet whisper: the sound of the God’s voice, confirmed it to me. But I also came to realize then, and was gratified to learn later, that there are certain facts of the world that stand out as clear evidence for Christianity’s truth-claims apart from my own internal experiences.

Apologetics is a strong arm for the church. It is commanded in scripture, and as seen above it is useful for the encouragement and self-image of the church, to shape and maintain a cultural milieu so that Christianity can be heard as an intellectually viable option, and to provide a double-warrant for belief. It is time for Christians to rise up and become familiar with apologetics. Can we afford otherwise?

This article (“The Broader Task of Apologetics”) appeared in the January issue of our Thinking Matters journal. The author, Stuart McEwing, holds a Bachelor of Design and is currently studying theology at Laidlaw College in Henderson. For more articles from our journal, head to our Journal site.

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Apologetic Resources for Small Groups

Small groups are a great setting for apologetic learning. Within the context of a discussion group, ideas can be more thoroughly examined, questions openly explored, and difficult concepts unpacked. Of course, as followers of Christ, our goal is never just head knowledge but to see God’s truth lived out in us. And small groups offer the advantage of not only enhancing learning through interaction, but in providing an enviroment of support for participants to apply and personalize truth in their own lives.

With an array of apologetic resources available, starting up a group can be a lot less intimidating than it once might have been. Study guides, DVD presentations, workbooks, and other materials offer enough scope to accommodate the academic level of the participants and the apologetic experience of the facilitator. You don’t have to have to have a theological or philosophical degree to be able run an effective group.  If there is a hunger for hearts strengthened by a deeper faith and a more robust intellectual life within your congregation, there’s little excuse for not running an apologetics program at your church.

Here are a few of those resources that are available:

Foundations of Apologetics Curriculum

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This is an excellent series that probably stands as the benchmark for small group resources. Produced by RZIM, the series includes 12 one-hour DVDs with accompanying workbooks. The series broaches a comprehensive range of apologetic arguments and strategies and features lectures by Ravi Zacharias and others including Alister McGrath and John Lennox.  You can purchase the whole set ($199 USD) or the individual titles ($19 USD) if you prefer. You can also preview the DVDs on YouTube (for example here).

Content:

1. Introduction to Apologetics: Conversations That Count
2. Truth and Reality
3. The Existence of God
4. Establishing a Worldview
5. The Trustworthiness of the Christian Scriptures
6. The Uniqueness of Christ
7. The Trinity and Apologetics
8. Pluralism: Do All Religions Lead to the Same Goal?
9. Faith, Reason, and Integration
10. God, Evil, and Suffering
11. Seeing & Exploring Cultural Connections
12. Reasoning From The Scriptures

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If you’re not interested in the DVD presentations, I’d recommend the Critical Questions series that RZIM also puts out. There are four discussion guides (’Is God Real?’, ‘What is truth?’, ‘Who was Jesus?’ and ‘Can I trust the Bible?) and each contain six sessions and are written by some of the top evangelical scholars, including William Lane Craig, Scot McKnight, Paul Copan, and Darrell L. Bock. The titles weigh in at around $6 USD each. One of the great things I like about this series of books is that each session focuses on a passage of Scripture and develops the discussion from there.

Crucial Questions by R. C. Sproul

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Sproul, founder and president of Ligonier Ministries, is the one of the most prominent apologists alive today and the prolific author of more over 60 books. This series of booklets that he has written deal with such topics as the true identity of Jesus, the will of God, the value of prayer, and the trustworthiness of the Bible. The booklets are succinct but solid discussions of questions at the core of the Christian life and make a great option for small groups. Each usually goes for $7 USD but Westminister Books currently has an offer where you can grab them for $4.90. You can also download pdf samples of the books on the WTS store website (for example here).

Content:

1. Who is Jesus?
2. Can I trust the Bible?
3. Does Prayer change things?
4. Can I know God’s will?
5. How should I live in this world?

The Truth Project

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The Truth Project represents an effort to redress the failure of many Christians to think consistently and faithfully from within the Biblical worldview. Produced by Focus on the Family ministries, the Truth Project is a DVD-based curriculum comprised of 12 one-hour lessons taught by Dr. Del Tackett. With each lesson tackling a fundamental aspect of life, the series is a good introduction to the Christian mindset and deeper philosophical ideas at the heart of the Biblical worldview. This is an exciting course, but it is not cheap. To buy the DVD set (includes 7 DVDs (13 one hour lessons)) on the Focus on the Family site, it will cost you $250 NZD.

Content:

1. Veritology: What is Truth?
2. Philosophy and Ethics: Says Who?
3. Anthropology: Who is Man?
4. Theology: Who is God?
5. Science: What is True?
6. History: Whose Story?
7. Sociology: The Divine Imprint
8. Unio Mystica: Am I Alone?
9. The State: Whose Law?
10. The American Experiment: Stepping Stones
11. Labor: Created to Create
12. Community and Involvement: God Cares, do I?

Tactics in Defending the Faith

23231This DVD package is focused on the ‘how’ of apologetics, rather than the content of apologetic activity itself.  Made available by Stand to Reason ministries, the set includes six one-hour interactive sessions with additional directions for discussion, role-playing, self-assessment quizzes, recall exercises, and other memory tools. The package is primarily for Christians who already have some familiarity with apologetic arguments but wish to sharpen their skills in presenting the truth clearly and persuasively. With PowerPoint slides and printable material for both group leaders and participants, the package costs $49.95 (USD).

Stand to Reason also has several other resources that are worth looking into, including their Ambassador Basic Curriculum and the Ambassador’s Guide to the New Atheists.

Reasonable Faith

The third edition of William Lane Craig’s textbook is a comprehensive introduction to the defense of the Christian faith and I’d recommend this only for a serious and committed group. Despite that disclaimer, Craig’s book is not pitched soley at academics or pastors, but is both accessible and enormously rewarding for the Christian layperson willing to invest the effort.  The 416 page book includes discussion of the  relationship between faith and reason, the existence of God, the problems of historical knowledge and miracles, the personal claims of Christ, and the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus. Along with the freely available online resources (study questions and powerpoint slides), the book is an ideal tool for those who want to go deeper into the latest Christian arguments in astrophysics, philosophy, probability calculus, and Reformed epistemology. Order the book from the Biola University website here or Amazon.

Battling Unbelief

sgbu_mediumUnbelief is not just for nonbelievers. Christians too can encounter doubt and skepticism. In fact, at the heart of our sin is often disbelief in who God is and in His promises for our lives. This DVD series, developed by Desiring God ministries, focuses on combating the practical outworking of unbelief in the lives of Christians.  The 12- week guided group study, divided into five manageable daily segments, seeks to help Christians wage war against such sins as anxiety, pride, shame, lust, despondency, and more. You can purchase the DVD set with presentations by John Piper and 12 Battling Unbelief Study Guides for $59.99 USD or get individual copies of Piper’s book for $11 USD.

Content:

1. Introduction to Battling Unbelief
2. A Passion for God’s Glory and Your Joy
3. A Passion for Practical Holiness
4. Is It Biblical? (Part 1)
5. Is It Biblical? (Part 2)
6. Origins of Radical Love (Part 1)
7. Origins of Radical Love (Part 2)
8. Battling the Unbelief of Anxiety
9. Battling the Unbelief of Covetousness
10. Battling the Unbelief of Lust
11. Battling the Unbelief of Bitterness and Impatience
12. Review and Conclusion

Also worth investigating are Piper’s excellent series Seeing and Savoring Christ and Don’t Waste Your Life.

Christianity Explored

The Christianity Explored Course is directed at those who have not made a commitment to Christ but are wanting to discover more about what it means to follow him. The course has been around for over ten years and offers a much better alternative to other courses like Alpha. Intended for a ten-week period, the series takes participants through Mark’s Gospel and raises questions that cut to the heart of Christianity, including ‘Who is Jesus?’, ‘Why did he come?’ and ‘What does it mean to follow him?’.

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The DVD set (with 14 talks) – $79.
Christianity Explored Study Guide – $4.99
Christianity Explored Leader’s Guide – $9.99
Christianity Explored DVD Starter Pack (includes 9 study guides, 3 leader guides, DVD, and How to run the course manual)  – $149.99

Content:

Preface: Before we begin
Week  1: Introduction
Week 1: Introduction
Week 2: Jesus – Who was he?
Week 3: Jesus – Why did he come?
Week 4: Jesus – His Death
Week 5: What is Grace?
Week 6: Jesus – His Resurrection
Exploring Christian Life:
– The Church
– The Holy Spirit
– Prayer
– The Bible
Week 7: What is a Christian?
Week 8: Continuing as a Christian
Week 9: Choices – King Herod
Week 10: Choices – James, John & Bartimaeus

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Closet Closet Christians

This article appeared in the January issue of our Thinking Matters journal. The author, Elisabeth Marshall, has a MA in English and teaches Medical Humanities at the University of Auckland. For more articles from our journal, head to our Journal site.

None of us was born a Christian. Some of us were saved in almost imperceptible tugs, drawn quietly into the kingdom of God. Some of us entered more theatrically, kicking and screaming, or running for dear life into God’s presence. For most of us, our conversion was shepherded by people who challenged us—whose lives, perhaps, made us start thinking, whose teaching changed our understanding, and who became our spiritual family. So why, after being given salvation, do some of us shrink away from engaging with the world around us? Outside the supportive limits of the church, we are cautious with our faith; though there are pews full of people who know how God has changed us, there are many more in workplaces and social groups who have never encountered our salvation. We become closet closet Christians.

At the root of our unwillingness to be heard and seen and held up as Christians, all too often, is pride. The rest of the world may be an important factor in the way we perceive our own unwillingness, and consequently in the way we behave, but the problem is not fundamentally between us and the rest of the world—it is between us and God. In an effort to settle our lives comfortably, we can retreat from those situations that require us to deeply examine and nourish our relationship with God; we shy away from interaction.

But, in God’s mercy, we cannot escape it. The world engages with us. People are looking for answers and guidance left, right and centre, flocking to buy the latest self-help books, taking advice from You! On the Privy and Seven Habits of Highly Attenuated, Upwardly Mobile People and marveling that Indo-European Women Don’t Suffer Debilitating Heartburn while they consult their horoscopes, their blood types, their progesterone levels, their learning styles and their season on the color wheel before committing themselves. We live in a world that in many ways is ripe for answers. Yet all too often Christians are the ones waiting for the feng shui to blossom into risk-free perfection before we open our mouths. A little reflection might help us to realise that, contrary to expectations, the world (and our friends) will likely not explode when we unleash our counter-cultural perspectives.

Aren’t friendships among the most difficult of circumstances within which to engage with the gospel? Of course, our friends are in need of the honest witness that we are called to provide, but to approach every person with friendship as a prerequisite is not always wise. It can lead us into the trap of setting ourselves—our own personalities, abilities, questions, and resources—above the God who saved us. The efforts of a number of student ministries of my acquaintance, whose primary (some might say only) focus involved the consumption of junk food while making group plasticine sculptures—all done 4, of course, Jesus—spring to mind: when God is not the focus, any attempts at friendship can become hollow.

The gospel, after all, is offensive. Before it can be good news, it must be bad news. Before it can be a refuge from accusation, it must first be accusatory. It’s not going to comfort those who are outside God’s grace, but challenge and charge them as sinners to take hold of grace so that they may be comforted. It’s never our task to be deliberately unpleasant or needlessly argumentative, as if people will be compelled into the kingdom by sheer ornery force, but neither are we told to avoid confrontation—there is more at stake than friendship.

In order to truly engage with the world, and genuinely share our faith, there are things we need to understand, and to accept, and to do.

Know God

He has blessed us with revelation. He has given us his own Spirit to literally live within us. We can know God. This fact is shockingly simple, and utterly revolutionary. Devotees of many other religions would be baffled by the opportunity to know God—not just to know for sure that he exists, or experience the spark of him in nature and the spirit realm, but to know him as a person. It should unsettle and excite us simply to be in communion with him, and not merely because out of that excitement will flow a genuine desire to share the news of him with others. We were created to be in an intimate relationship with God in his first earthly garden, and we were saved to glorify him by the same relationship magnified in his heavenly city; the relationship that we have right now, even though we still grieve him with our sin every day, is utterly vital for us, and expresses God’s character in a way that is utterly essential to him. We need to value it above all things.

Know the truth

We need to understand the truth of our own salvation in its simplicity. This requires both a clear understanding of the gospel, with all side-issues and tendrils of confusion pared away, and a deep assurance that God has, indeed, worked effectively in us. Often, we need to let go of tangential things, to be able to present the essential truth of the gospel in a world whose basic philosophies make it difficult for many people to understand Christianity. We should strive not to present our faith as mere cultural baggage. This requires a clarity and humility of understanding as we examine our hobbies, our politics, our personalities and preferences, and seek to illuminate them with the light of Scripture. Paul valued his ability to “become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22).

Don’t be ashamed

God promises that “He who honors me, I will honor” (1 Samuel 2:30). We are not to be ashamed of the gospel emotionally, as if we will be harmed by criticism or ridicule. We are not to be ashamed intellectually, as if we believe that the foundations of our faith will crumble at skeptical objections. We are not to be morally ashamed, as if we have not been forgiven, or as if God’s grace is not enough to cover us. We are not to let our sinful weaknesses bring shame upon our witness by indulging the temptations to pride, condescension, anger, and laziness as we interact with people. In short, we are not to be ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of salvation for everyone who believes (Romans 1:16).

Engage boldly

My own spiritual background is resolutely Calvinistic. With the passionate Reformed conviction of God’s absolute omnipotence, his complete authority, there can be the tendency to become passive in evangelism; we rely on God so much for our salvation and our very lives that it’s possible to drift away from the responsibilities he has given to us. We understand all too well that we can do nothing without his direction, but sometimes we start to doubt that we should do anything at all. But that is not the way God guides us to act—doubtfully, provisionally, hesitantly. His commands are direct: Make disciples. Go. Be holy. Walk in the light. Be not unwise. Work out your salvation. We need to remember that God has promised to save everyone he chooses, and that he has chosen that we should deliver his words. Faith will come, he promises, as people hear the word of God.

Evangelism requires boldness in prayer, and a willingness to question some of the things our world holds most basic. It requires that we use the faith that God has given us, and trust that his word “will not return to him empty” (Isaiah 55:11) of power, but will transform the lives of all whom God calls to salvation.

With boldness, we must also be humble, always ready to question ourselves, admit mistakes, and demonstrate grace as we speak with people. There is a place for directness, perhaps sharing books and podcasts as we try to challenge others, and finding out about other religions and philosophies so that we can more fully understand the distinctiveness of Christianity. But directness and assurance must not lead to complacency; we should be restless as we wait on our Lord, never forgetting his grace, striving to make certain that our own lives are seasoned with the salt that will give others a thirst for the water of the living God. He is truly the one who sustains and will finally perfect our faith, and we must remain in him—in practical apologetics, in the conversation on the bus, the visit with a friend, the footpath chat with a non-Christian missionary, the letter to a relative. We are not simply engaging with other people; we are engaged with God in those moments, serving him and experiencing the blessings of his salvation. And God will act, he promises, as we boldly go into the world and offer ourselves, uncloseted, as members of his beloved body with good news to share.

Introducing Apologetics

This article appeared in the January issue of our Thinking Matters journal. The author, Stuart McEwing, holds a Bachelor of Design and is currently studying theology at Laidlaw College in Henderson. For more articles from our journal, head to our Journal site.

When I was young, I delighted in being sure of my faith. I reasoned that if something were true it could stand up to being questioned. A lie would eventually fall and break on the hard rock of God’s truth. Christianity, it seemed to me, stood head and shoulders above all other religious points of view. Not only did it make sense internally, but it also made sense of the world, describing accurately all that I saw.

That was all until, at the age of fifteen, I was hit by an storm of doubt. I’ve always had two great desires: to find and to know the truth; and to live according to it. The attack that struck played to these strengths and turned them to weaknesses. It came in the form of the question what if…?

What if it’s all a lie? What if everyone is deceiving me, or they’re simply mistaken? What if I just happened to be born in a Christian home and raised in a Christian church? What if, up until now, I’ve living in a bubble, looking at the world through a distorted lens? What if God doesn’t exist? Would I have the courage to live according to that conviction?

The force of those questions spilled down and threatened to overwhelm me, but for a small voice whispering a gentle admonition. What about the fulfilled prophesies in the bible? What about all the self-authenticating proofs in the Word? These surely are solid justification for all that I believed. With these evidences, I was quietly reassured.

What is apologetics?

So when I came across the word “apologetics” years later, I immediately understood. I realized for the first time, that which assured me then was just a small part of an enormous, detailed and exciting arena where Christianity was shown to be true. I was intrigued, and began to find out more. Around each bend waited a new surprise, as I discovered new evidences and reasons to believe. When I heard my mentor say that he was called to an apologetics ministry, I felt again the excitement I felt that day when I was fifteen. Perhaps I am as well.

Still, I wasn’t certain until one of my friends told me that he had to “give in”, and embrace the absurdity of God. My heart despaired, for he was and is an extremely bright person, with all the quirks and eccentricities of a genius. He had accepted the Lord Jesus, and was in turn accepted by him, but to me he described how he had to suspend his mighty intellect before making the leap of faith. It hit me then—does it honor God to think that he is an absurdity? He is the logos, the underlying truth that pervades the world; “the rational principle that governs all things”.1 “The light of reason, as well as the life of sense, is derived from him, and depends upon him.”2

Unfortunately this attitude to faith is all too typical. For example, in the recent film The Bucket List, the characters of Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman are both facing death. Flying over the arctic they talk seriously for the first time about the possibility of an afterlife and the existence of God. Edward (Nicholson) expresses his wonder at how anyone could believe as Carter (Freeman) does. He equates God with “the sugar-plum fairy”, and asks Carter, “You’re not claiming you know something I don’t?” Carter shakes his head. “I just have faith.”

Belief in God is represented as groundless, infantile, and ultimately irrelevant. As Edward puts it, “we live, we die, and the wheels on the bus go round and round…and if I’m wrong, I win.” Disturbing also is that Carter lets the issue drop, reflecting for us how Christians today are perceived. With the man beside him knocking on Death’s door, all that matters is subjective belief—not objective truth. Carter grows quiet and stares out the window to contemplate the beauty of God’s creation, while Edward goes back to his reading.

But in your hearts set Christ apart as holy [and acknowledge Him] as Lord. Always be ready to give a logical defense to anyone who asks you to account for the hope that is in you, but do it courteously and respectfully (1 Peter 3:15, Amplified Bible).

The Greek word for “defense” here is apologia. It means literally “to speak for”. It could be translated as the verb “reason” or “answer”, and was used in Greek law to refer to a forensic defense in court (as, for example, in Plato’s Apology). Thus we are commanded from Scripture to be gentle with people, to respect their beliefs, but at the same time to be ready to give a reasoned defense to anyone who asks why we believe what we believe.

Giving a defense involves both refuting objections raised against our faith, and offering positive evidence on its behalf. The Old Testament prophets practiced apologetics,3 as did the early church.4 The Bible commands it.5 Therefore, we should do likewise.

Apologetics is the task of providing proofs for Christian truth-claims. When one says “proof”, one need not have in mind mathematical certainty. This would be far too heavy a burden to bear. A proof is a well-reasoned argument with true premises (or premises at least more probable that their contradictories), and a conclusion that follows from them. The result is the verdict found in the courtroom: “beyond reasonable doubt”, and this is sufficient to uphold Christianity as rational.

The central truth-claims of Christianity include the existence of God, the deity of Christ and his bodily resurrection, the Bible as the inspired and inerrant word of God, and so on. Truth-claims which surround this central core are too numerous to list, but a good rule of thumb for apologetics is that if the Bible says it, then it can be defended, and it is right to be defended; if the Bible disagrees with it, then it can be pulled down, and it is right to be pulled down.6

Sadly, people who set out to burn heretics rather than reflect Christ’s character have marred the image of apologetics. Polemics has a place in apologetics (see 2 Corinthians 10), but the Christian’s task is to persuade people because he loves both them and the truth. He is called to be not only persuasive, but to conduct himself in a manner worthy of Christ. As popular apologist Greg Pritchard says,

Apologetics is explicitly and fundamentally Christian. Apologetics is, or it should be, a form of Christian love […] We need to love them enough to listen to them, to ask them questions, to answer their questions, to challenge them to become genuine seekers of truth, to urge them to examine the claims of Christ […] Apologetics is an application of Christian leadership, which includes a biblical way of life.7

Apologetics is the art and science of Christian persuasion. It is not, itself, evangelism. Whereas apologetics removes intellectual stumbling blocks that prevent a person from accepting the gospel, evangelism makes the call for some kind of faith commitment. Obviously, these are closely related tasks: as all are called to evangelism, all are called to apologetics. Norman Geisler, influential Christian philosopher and prolific author, describes apologetics as pre-evangelism.

The scope of apologetics

Because of its nature apologetics is a wide and inter-disciplinary field, covering immense ground. It includes the history of the church, the history of Christian thought, and the theological framework for a biblical worldview. It responds to liberal higher criticism8 and form criticism.9. Like Christian philosophy, it employs logic, epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy of science, philosophy of religion, and the study of ethics and how we justify ethical beliefs.

Considering the breadth and diversity of the discipline, there are many different methods of defending the faith, and diverse areas of specialities:

Evidential apologetics

This is a field which looks to empirical (scientific) evidences for the vindication of Christian truth-claims. It is broadly divided into two categories:

Historical apologetics

This method revolves around examining and proving the reliability and transmission of the Bible, presenting evidence for it as God’s word, for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and so on. It includes the field of archeology, and overlaps significantly with scientific apologetics.

Scientific apologetics

If the Bible is true, then its author is also the author of science. Johannes Kepler, German astronomer and mathematician, said that he was “thinking God’s thoughts after him.” Isaac Newton, after writing Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687) said he hoped it would “persuade thinking men to believe in a deity”. Notable Christian scientists today, such as William Dembski,10 Philip Johnson,11 Hugh Ross, and Russell Humphreys are all apologists making waves in the scientific community.

Philosophical apologetics

Like evidential methods, philosophical apologetics can be divided into two main methodologies:

Classical apologetics

This method appeals to general philosophical evidences for God’s existence. It includes, for example, the teleological and cosmological arguments, such as the Kalam Cosmological Argument propounded by William Lane Craig. It also involves defenses against philosophical objections, such as the problem of evil or how finite man can speak of an infinite God.

Presuppositional apologetics

This is a form of philosophical apologetics, pioneered by Cornelius Van Til and Gordon Clark, which denies any common ground between the believer and non-believer. Rather than arguing towards God from a pretense of neutrality, presuppositional apologetics presupposes God and his word, and argues from this foundation. Believing that there is no greater positive evidence for the existence of God than his own self-revelation, and refusing to grant the autonomy of human reason, it will instead focus on refuting non-Christian beliefs, demonstrating that only Christianity is capable of furnishing man with a cogent belief system which makes sense of the world.

Psychological apologetics

As with the previous two branches, this can be subdivided into two related disciplines:

Anthropological apologetics

This method attempts to provide reasons for becoming a Christian apart from purely intellectual arguments. It is the methodology employed by Blaise Pascal, the 17th Century French mathematician and philosopher, famous for developing his wager argument based on probability theory. It focuses on man’s search for meaning, the human condition, and speaks directly to the religiosity of man.

Testimonial apologetics

This is exemplified in The Confessions of St Augustine and is available readily to every believer. Often called the Final Apologetic, it is the evidence of the transformed life of the believer. Being constituted in subjective experience, it is philosophically unsophisticated—but often the most powerfully persuasive. Press reporter Henry M Stanley confessed himself to be the biggest swaggering atheist on the face of the earth—yet in four months of intimate acquaintance with David Livingstone, he knelt down on African soil to accept Christ as Lord. His two-volume biography Livingston of Africa states, “The Power of that Christ life was awesome, and I had to buckle in. I couldn’t hold out any longer.”

Fideism

Søren Kierkegaard (1813–55), the Danish philosopher and theologian, reasoned that what mattered most was inward, subjective belief rather than outward objective reality. In his view, the important issue was not that Jesus rose from the dead, but that you passionately believe he did. Christianity should be believed, but not defended. In religious issues he argued what we need to do is to take a blind leap of faith into the non-rational realm. Kierkegaard was thus the opposite of an apologist, and so offered no reason for belief.

It is clear that Kierkegaard misunderstood the concept of faith.12 Though the internal, subjective aspect is certainly vital, he was wrong to de-emphasize the faculty of reason in Christian belief. His view disregarded the biblical commands and also opposed historic Christian orthodoxy, which included great thinkers such as Augustine and Aquinas. These men believed the Christian faith was rational, founded on reason, and that it is irrational not to believe. Paul himself indicates that subjective belief is worthless if it is not based in objective reality.13

Despite this, many Christians today view apologetics as unnecessary, preferring instead a capitulation to mindlessness. Apologetics is seen as a pointless and fruitless enterprise; outdated and outmoded. Yielding their God-given faculty of intellect, they disregard the example of Daniel and his friends, who were proven faithful in their study—and in turn, were responsible for an international revival and the restoration of Israel to her homeland. Sadly, few laymen in New Zealand have ever heard of apologetics, and few institutions in New Zealand Christian academia emphasize its importance.

Os Guinness

Os Guinness on the Essence of Apologetics (Part 4)

In part 4 of this lecture series on the essence of apologetics, Os Guinness considers how to persuade those who appear ‘hard-hearted’ and how to awaken an awareness of their need for the Gospel through various creative means.

Tim Keller

How can there be just one religion?

In this talk, pastor and author Tim Keller addresses the objection of religious exclusivity and whether it is reasonable for Christians to claim that Jesus alone is the “way, the truth, and the life”.

Book Review: The Making of an Atheist by James Spiegel

Chris at the Cloud of Witnesses blog reviews the new book by James Spiegel on the influence of immorality, broken paternal relationships, and other psychological factors in why many embrace atheism.

Five Arguments for God

The Gospel Coalition have released the seventh article for their Christ on Campus Initiative, entitled “Five Arguments for God”. The essay is written by well-known apologist and Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, William Lane Craig. Weighing in at thirty pages, Craig’s article re-examines five arguments for the existence of God and particularly how these arguments hold up against the popular criticism of Dawkins’ The God Delusion. Craig writes:

“It’s perhaps something of a surprise that almost none of the so-called New Atheists has anything to say about arguments for God’s existence. Instead, they do tend to focus on the social effects of religion and question whether religious belief is good for society. One might justifiably doubt that the social impact of an idea for good or ill is an adequate measure of its truth, especially when there are reasons being offered to think that the idea in question really is true. Darwinism, for example, has certainly had at least some negative social influences, but that’s hardly grounds for thinking the theory to be false and simply ignoring the biological evidence in its favor.

Perhaps the New Atheists think that the traditional arguments for God’s existence are now passé and so no longer need refutation. If so, they are naïve. Over the last generation there has been a revival of interest among professional philosophers, whose business it is to think about difficult metaphysical questions, in arguments for the existence of God…

The New Atheists are blissfully ignorant of this ongoing revolution in Anglo-American philosophy. They are generally out of touch with cutting-edge work in this field. About the only New Atheist to interact with arguments for God’s existence is Richard Dawkins. In his book The God Delusion, which has become an international best-seller, Dawkins examines and offers refutations of many of the most important arguments for God. He deserves credit for taking the arguments seriously. But are his refutations cogent? Has Dawkins dealt a fatal blow to the arguments?

Well, let’s look at some of those arguments and see.”

The five arguments that Craig covers are:

1. the cosmological argument from contingency
2. the kalam cosmological argument based on the beginning of the universe
3. the moral argument based upon objective moral values and duties
4. the teleological argument from fine-tuning
5. the ontological argument from the possibility of God’s existence to his actuality

It is an excellent overview and along with the other articles (see our post on the CCI here) together offer valuable material for campus ministries (or anyone else).

The article can be read here or downloaded as a pdf.

Os Guinness on the Essence of Apologetics (Part 3)

In Part 3 of this lecture series, Dr Guinness considers how to communicate effectively in apologetics. He discusses cross-cultural communication and how to contextualize your message to the language and world of your audience.

A "Grab Bag" of Self-Refuting Positions

In his Introduction to Logic, Harry Gensler defines a self-refuting statement as “[A] statement that makes negative claims so sweeping that it ends up denying itself.” [1] In other words, it results when an argument or position is undercut by its own criteria  (An example of this would be saying, “I cannot speak a word of English” in English).  Off the top of my head and in no particular order, here’s a grab-bag of several self-refuting positions which I’ve documented over the years:

  1. Truth does not exist (Is that a true statement?)
  2. Nothing is absolute (Is that absolutely true?)
  3. I do not exist (You must exist to deny that you exist)
  4. Science is the only way to know (Can you scientifically prove that?)
  5. Only what can be perceived by the five senses exists (Can you prove that by the five senses?)
  6. Nobody can know anything for sure (Do you know that for sure?)
  7. Nobody can know anything about God (How do you know that?)
  8. Talk about God is meaningless (Since it is a statement about God, this statement is meaningless too)
  9. Reality is just your interpretation, objective reality does not exist (That’s just your interpretation)
  10. “‘Everything we think and do is the function of our genes/nervous system'”: Is this belief itself just the result of genetic/neutral activity? If so, why trust it — or any belief we have? If your belief happens to be right, it’s just by accident” [2]
  11. There are no beliefs (You expect me to believe that?) [3]
  12. Everything is meaningless (So is that statement)

I’ll be adding to this as they keep coming to me, suggestions are welcome!

Notes:

[1] – Harry J. Gensler, Introduction to Logic (New York, NY: Routledge 2002)p:396
[2] – Paul Copan, Loving Wisdom: Christian Philosophy of Religion (Danvers, MA: Chalice 2007) p.62
[3] – Victor Reppert, C. S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity 2003)p.75