The local dogs tonight taught me a lesson in apologetics. I was taking a walk in the evening. Plenty of shops are open and pedestrians are walking around at 8:30 in my Chiang Mai neighbourhood, and there was a bright full moon. At the doorway of the laundromat lay three or four dogs, resting.
The Mama Bear Apologetics book is an essential resource for Christian parents. It dives deep into the ideals that are shaping the Western world today.
“‘The Authority and Relevance of the Bible in the Modern World’ – centers in the truth of the basic assumption of Biblical Christianity that the Bible, the Old Testament and the New, is what throughout it claims to be, the record of an unfolding revelation of God.” – E. M. Blaiklock
I was given my first Bible when I was 19 years old. At the time I was transitioning from years as a student and competitive swimmer, to a typical life of a young adult leaving a life of strict discipline. I struck up an unlikely friendship with a young Christian man who spent many months trying to convert me to Christianity. He didn’t quite convince me, but sometime in our friendship he gave me a Bible. It became my most treasured possession. Many years later when I became a believer, my Bible became essential as I navigated this radical way of living called Christianity.
Currently, a third of the world’s population identify as Christian. Those 2.2 billion people recognise the Bible as the source of the doctrines of their Christian faith. Yet, despite its popularity, no book in history has been so viciously maligned, intensely scrutinised, misused (unfortunately sometimes for atrocities) and misrepresented.
In April 2018, GQ Magazine published an article: ‘21 Classic Books You Don’t Have To Read By The Time You’re Thirty.’ On the list at number 12 was the Bible. Part of it’s blurb read:
The Holy Bible is rated very highly by all the people who supposedly live by it but who in actuality have not read it. Those who have read it know there are some good parts, but overall it is certainly not the finest thing that man has ever produced. It is repetitive, self-contradictory, sententious, foolish, and even at times ill-intentioned…
Many Christians rushed to online forums to express their outrage. Yet the comments were nothing new, being reflective of the Bible’s standing in our western secular culture. But was the author correct in his descriptions of the Bible?
While it is true many Christians in the West do neglect personal Bible reading, many of us do read it daily. There are also many Christians who risk their lives to own a Bible in countries where it is dangerous to be a Christian.
The Bible is not a single book with one author. It is an extraordinary collection of 66 individual books and letters. 39 books make up the Old Testament (or the Hebrew Scriptures), and the other 27 make up the New Testament. These books were put together in a Biblical Canon – books that meet the standard and criteria of authoritative inspirational writings.
The books of the Bible were written by around 40 authors over a time span of around 1600 years on three continents – Asia, Africa, and Europe, and in three different languages – Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. The authors came from different cultures, education, and socio-economic backgrounds, and included: Kings, prophets, battle-hardened military leaders, sea battered fishermen, a tax collector, a physician, and even a zealous Pharisee!
Miraculously, despite such diversity, there is a clear meta-narrative – a Golden Thread – weaved throughout the books of the Bible, revealing the story of a creative, relational God and the Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration of humanity. The Bible is beautifully unique in both its complexity and unusual unity.
Is the Bible repetitious?
Repetition is often used in the Bible, giving readers varied perspectives and a more thorough view of events. It also emphasises ideas and themes of importance such as the laws of the Old Testament, or God’s repeated patience with His rebellious people. The Bible also contains many ‘undesigned coincidences’ where small details in one account of a story add further detail or meaning to accounts by other authors. These are more easily found in repeated narratives such as the Gospels.
An example of repetition often put forth by Bible detractors is the question of why there needs to be four Gospels. In the Gospels we are given four very different eyewitness accounts of Jesus. Matthew writes a theological biography of Jesus; Mark from a literal, discipleship perspective; Luke from an historian’s perspective; while John writes from the perspective of an evangelist, prophet and pastor seeking to strengthen the faith of Christians. These four independent perspectives add depth and meaning to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Is the Bible self-contradictory?
As the Bible is a collection of ancient near eastern texts they should not be read through the filter of our 21st century western perspective. Many so-called contradictions are not contradictions at all, they are differences or misunderstandings of the texts or textual variants. Most English Bibles add textual variants and explanations of differences in footnotes.
An example of a biblical contradiction is Mark 15:25 where Jesus is crucified on the third hour, whereas John 19: 14-15 has Jesus still standing before Pilate in the sixth hour. Mark is using Jewish time reckoning – dawn to sundown – placing the crucifixion at around 9am. John, if using Roman time reckoning – midnight to midday – places Jesus before Pilate at 6am. John appears to use Roman time reckoning throughout his gospel.
Is the Bible sententious?
The Bible is full of moral sayings, proverbs, and parables. There are lessons to be learned and warnings are given, but always with the aim of improving the lives of communities and individuals to whom they were given. Biblical narratives, whether historical or proverbial, give examples of the need for moral laws by sharing the real traits of Biblical characters. Raw emotions, actions, reactions, and overreactions are laid bare in both Old and New Testaments. Sins, faults and shameful behaviour, along with their resultant consequences, are exposed rather than hidden.
Is the Bible foolish?
It is doubtful a ‘foolish’ book could continue the serious worldwide influence the Bible has maintained for over a thousand years. Ironically, this often maligned book continues to sell more copies than any other book in history. People have risked their lives to ensure the Bible reaches believers in countries where it is banned. Others have dedicated their lives to making sure it is translated into indigenous languages.
The Bible’s influence has brought more good to the world than any other book in history. A few examples are:
Martin Luther King Jnr., and his call for human equality; Christian missionaries and their selfless, determined education of the poor, indigenous people and women; William Wilberforce and his tireless and often seemingly hopeless work to end the slave trade; Kate Sheppard and her leadership in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in New Zealand, resulting in the first votes for women in the world; The incredible intensity and beauty found in Classical art, literature and music.
All of the above have their roots in a Christian worldview based on the truths found in the Bible. These truths reveal every human being as having intrinsic worth and purpose and created by an awesome loving God. Biblical Christianity was a dominant influence in forming our democratic western culture with all the freedoms we enjoy today.
Is the Bible ill-intentioned?
By its continued existence, despite constant opposition, the Bible proves its own worth and standing. It is a book of good intention and has offered direction, hope, and purpose for billions of people over thousands of years.
The Holy Bible is worth reading. It is a rich library of books and letters containing various literary genres from poetry and prose, through to history, philosophy, and theology. This great Book acknowledges and answers the questions of life, giving meaning and a salve to what C. S. Lewis describes as that ‘old ache.’
I opened this post with a quote from E. M. Blaiklock’s 1975 lecture and I will finish with his closing remarks:
J. G. Lockhart tells of Sir Walter Scott’s last days. The great writer was incapacitated by a stroke. Lockhart writes: ‘He desired to be drawn into the library, and placed by the central window that he might look down upon the Tweed. Here he expressed a wish that I should read to him, and, when I asked from what book, he said – “Need you ask? There is but one.” ‘ True. There is still but one.
 E. M. Blaiklock, OBE, The Authority and Relevance of the Bible in the Modern World, The 2nd Olivier Beguin Memorial Lecture. 1975. E. M. Blaiklock was Chair of Classics at Auckland University from 1947 to 1968. He was a prolific writer of Christian Apologetics.
 These are the number of books in the Protestant Canon accepted by Protestants from the time of the Reformation, although all 66 books were accepted as authoritative from the first century. There are several other books included in the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox canon’s such as the Old & New Testament Apocrypha. I will discuss these further in my next post. See also: Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, Klein, WW, Dr., Blomberg, C. L. Dr., Hubbard, Jr, R. L. Dr. 2004, Ch. 4, The Canon and Translations.
 John Dickson, A Doubters Guide to the Bible. 2014.
 Due to space I have not added examples of undesigned coincidences in this post but will in a future post as it is an interesting topic. The concept of coincidences that are undesigned was first discussed in William Paley’s Horae Paulinae, 1869, and followed further by John James Blunt in his Undesigned Coincidences, 1869. A contemporary book has been written by Lydia McGrew – Hidden in Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts, 2017.
 The Holman Concise Bible Commentary, B & H Publishing, 2010.
 C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory. “Apparently, then, our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation. And to be at last summoned inside would be both glory and honor beyond all our merits and also the healing of that old ache.”
When writing my previous blog post on the question, “How can a loving God send someone to Hell?” I was aware that there would be more I would have to write on this topic in the future. It’s an incredibly tough subject and one I am not at all comfortable with and more a theological question than an apologetic one.
The associated question: “Why doesn’t God annihilate unbelievers at death?” is one I have often pondered. It is a question that requires in-depth biblical exegesis. However, I believe we can look at Scripture as a starting point of reference to at least begin to formulate an answer.
In this post I offer a some guidelines we can use when searching for the answers to this important question and others like it. In the footnotes, I will also give some follow up links for further study of the topic.
Whichever doctrinal line we decide to ascribe to we need to remember that the authority of the Holy Scriptures are both our starting point and reference for any study on the topic and we should not interpret them according to what we want to find. It is too easy to find a verse or two that could be interpreted in the way that makes us more comfortable, rather than objectively looking at what the verse actually says in both it’s historical, grammatical and contextual state of being.
We also need to acknowledge that until we personally step into eternity ourselves we can only interpret what may be the answer where there are not definitive supporting scriptures.
To begin let us look at the two predominant thoughts about hell. Whether it is an eternal punishment or if it has an end point culminating in the complete annihilation of an unbeliever’s soul.
There are many Scriptures that point to the ‘eternal torment’ of unbelievers, but there are also some Scriptures that seem to allude to a possible post-punishment termination point.
The following is a small list of Scriptures often used to support a post-death annihilation of unbelievers (I have underlined the words pointing to these thoughts):
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter it are many.” Matthew 7:13
“They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and the Glory of His might,” 2 Thessalonians 1:9 (This verse is also used in support of an eternal torment).
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16
“While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” John 17:12
“What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory –“ Romans 9:22-23
“and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God” Philippians 1:28
“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Matthew 10:28
“But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.” Hebrews 10:39
Although Matthew 10:28 appears convincing, I find these Scriptures unhelpful, as they don’t specifically say ‘cease to exist eternally’; it again comes down to context and interpretation that warrant further study.
The following are verses that speak of an eternal punishment:
“And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest day or night, these worshippers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.” Revelation 14:11
“And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. “ Matthew 18:8
“The he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me. And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Matthew 25: 45-46
“….where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” Mark 9:44-48
“..and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.” John 5:29
“These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power,” 2 Thessalonians 1:9
“Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.” Daniel 12:2
Neither of these lists are exhaustive, yet as much as I would prefer annihilation to be the answer for those who choose Hell, I personally cannot find indisputable evidence in Scripture that this will be the case.
If we are going to discard the doctrine of eternal punishment because it feels profoundly unpleasant to us, then it seems fair to ask what other biblical teachings we will also reject, because they too don’t square with what we feel. And if we do this, are we not replacing the authority of Scripture with the authority of our feelings, or our limited understanding? Randy Alcorn
We can and should continue to study this topic and there is a wealth of opinion, both scholarly and otherwise, out there to read and meditate through. In the meantime, the reality of there being a hell – eternal or finite – should move us to do all we can to ensure that we get the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ to as many people as possible. We need to be careful that our study does not distract from the Great Commission. As I stated earlier we may only find clear answers to some of these difficult questions when we step into eternity ourselves.
“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part: then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” 1 Corinthians 13.12 ESV
Let us focus on the call God has placed upon all of us through Jesus and be inspired to action by Spurgeon, who said:
“If sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies; and if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay…If hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned or unprayed for.”
We cannot allow our ‘feelings’ about the horror of hell and our very human desire for it to be a false doctrine paralyse, us into doing nothing. Let us err on the side of Hope and work hard to do all we can to stop the flow into hell whilst we continue the search for answers.
 For more Scriptures that support eternal punishment read: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/ten-foundational-verses-for-eternal-punishment-in-hell/
 https://www.epm.org/resources/2014/Jun/18/will-unbelievers-be-annihilated/ This is an excerpt from Randy Alcon’s book If God Is Good, Chapter 29: Hell: Eternal Sovereign Justice Exacted upon Evildoers.
 I suggest reading through some of the following Q & A’s by Dr William Lane Craig: https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/question-answer/bradley-on-hell – particularly Point 3. https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/question-answer/do-the-damned-in-hell-accrue-further-punishment
 Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “The Wailing of Risca” (sermon 349, New Park Street Pulpit, December 9, 1860), www.spurgeon.org/sermons/0349.htm, as quoted in Randy Alcorns book If God is Good, Chapter 29: Hell: Eternal Sovereign Justice Exacted upon Evildoers.
AN AUCKLAND EVENT
This event is for Auckland friends who are passionate about how the Gospel of Jesus has the power to transform lives, communities and culture itself. Also for those who support the work of Thinking Matters through prayer, financial support or by attending our events – and who want to know more about us:
Transforming Culture With Clear Thinking Christianity
An Inside Look at the Work of the Thinking Matters New Zealand Foundation
The evening includes the following two presentations:
To Reform the World: The Story of the Clapham Sect
Dr Roshan Allpress – National Principal & CEO of Laidlaw College
What does it look like when small groups of Christians set out to orchestrate social and cultural change? Between the 1750s and 1830s, networks of Evangelicals across Britain engaged in wide-ranging efforts to reform society and reorient Britain’s national and imperial culture. Through a series of vignettes, this presentation will consider how the Clapham Sect fostered intergenerational faithfulness, pursued rigorous intellectual engagement with the issues of the day, and developed innovative modes of organisation and activism.
Roshan is the Principal of Laidlaw College, New Zealand’s largest theological college. A historian by training, with degrees from Canterbury and Oxford, Roshan has research interests in the origins of philanthropic and humanitarian networks, and the social and intellectual dynamics of groups who have orchestrated sociocultural reform (such as the Clapham Sect). Prior to Laidlaw College, Roshan worked for the Venn Foundation (formerly the Compass Foundation) and for Maxim Institute – cultivating networks of young Christian leaders, and developing resources for these growing networks. He lives in Auckland and is married with two children.
Inside Thinking Matters: Impacting New Zealand with Apologetics
Rodney Lake – National Director of Thinking Matters NZ Foundation
2018 marks the tenth year that Thinking Matters has been growing the local apologetics community and equipping Kiwi Christians to make a gracious and clear defence of their Christian worldview. In this talk Rodney shares our passion for equipping the New Zealand Church – with highlights from the last decade and our plans for the next. This talk will give our friends, partners and supporters a deeper look into what we do – and why we do it.
Rodney is the National Director of Thinking Matters NZ Foundation. He speaks at churches, youth groups, Christian schools and non-believers at outreach events around the country on the reasons why Christianity is true. He is an adjunct apologetics lecturer at Faith Bible College, teaches regular ‘Introduction to Christianity’ courses at Bethlehem College and serves on the board of Bethlehem College Limited.
WHAT: Two presentations followed by a time of discussion and audience Q&A with both Roshan and Rodney.
WHEN: Friday 9th February
WHERE: The Cafe at Greenlane Christian Centre. Click here for a map.
RSVP: None – just turn up.
COST: Free – so invite a friend!
Please share this with anyone who has an interest in the work we do!
I love this time of year. We decorate our homes with tinsel, nativity scenes and snow globes. And of course, the tree!
Christmas is a time when most families come together to share gifts, stories, laughter and love. For others it is a bittersweet time, or even a painfully lonely time. Despite the rampant commercialism, encroaching secularism and yes – the stress – Christmas day still points to and commemorates one of the most important days on the Christian calendar, the birth of our Saviour Jesus Christ.
As Christians it is a time we can unashamedly share the Good News of Jesus and have reason to invite people to Church. Despite the prevalence of gifts and delicious food and all those jolly men in red suits, the foundation of the Christmas celebration in western culture is still Jesus’s birth and because of this our conversations can more easily turn to God and the true meaning of Christmas. The conversations can be light and friendly or, because our current culture questions everything, we can find ourselves faced with some tough questions about our faith. One of the most asked questions and possibly the hardest to answer is:
“But if God is so loving, how could He send people to hell?”
I’ll be honest, the first time someone asked me this question, I fell silent. It was a question I personally struggled to find an answer for. The biblical concepts of an all-loving God and the terrifying descriptions of Hell were too incongruent. With a primary focus on our Loving God in current sermons and writings, I began to wonder if Hell did actually exist and if God really would send people there.
Yet, although Hell has largely disappeared from current Christian conversations, it has not disappeared from the Bible. There are many verses in the Scriptures that forewarn of it. Jesus warned of Hell more than He discussed heaven.1 Despite its awfulness, biblical authority won and I could not deny Hell’s existance.
To find some clarity on this tough doctrine we can look at three attributes of God. First, God is Holy – perfectly pure in a way we can barely imagine from our earthly perspective so marred by sin. Sin can be described as a corruption of good that affects both the natural realm and our internal selves – damaging our character and spirit by turning our focus inward, rather than outward in worship to God. It is as impossible for sin to exist in God’s Holy presence, as it is impossible that a tissue can survive a burning flame. God hates sin and all it does to humanity.2 Rebecca Manly Pippert put it well in her book Hope has its reasons,
‘Think how we feel when we see someone we love ravaged by unwise actions or relationships. Do we respond with benign tolerance as we might toward strangers? Far from it…Anger isn’t the opposite of love. Hate is, and the final form of hate is indifference. God’s wrath is not a cranky explosion, but his settled opposition to the cancer…which is eating out the insides of the human race he loves with his whole being.’3
Second, God is Just. There will be a time when He will set things right and complete justice will prevail. He is also just, in that He will never force us into a relationship with Him. If we spend our lives denying God, refuting Him and refusing Him, it would not be just for Him to force us to then live eternally in constant fellowship with Him.4
Third, God is Love. His love for humanity is all encompassing, and incredibly patient. Although we sometimes wish He’d quickly rid the world of evil, His love for us means He is waiting for as many people as possible to turn to Him.5 I’m personally grateful He waited for me! The evil in the world is a result of our having free will. We have the choice to love God and follow His ways and we have the choice to deny Him and follow our own ways. It follows then, that when we die, our choice to be in relationship with Him, or not, would also be honored. It would not be a loving or just act for God to force us to be with Him for all eternity. There has to be a hell, a place of complete separation from God, for those who don’t choose Heaven.6
In his allegory, The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis wrote:
‘There are only two kinds of people – those who say, “Thy will be done” to God or those to whom God in the end says, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell choose it. Without that self-choice it wouldn’t be Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it.’
God does not send us to Hell, we choose to go there and that is the greatest tragedy. God didn’t just reach out for us, He came down as one of us. Down into our messy reality to save us from our sins and give us a way up and out. Love came down in the form of a baby boy who would one day make the ultimate sacrifice to change the world and bring hope and the offer of life beyond all we could imagine. He still offers us the hope that there will one day be no more suffering, sickness, death and destruction and that one-day every tear will be wiped away.7 So in our response to the first question, we could also sincerely ask,
“Why would you not choose Heaven?”
There are many verses where Jesus explains about, warns against and describes Hell, for example, the sobering Matthew 25:31- 46. In Luke 16: 19-31 Jesus tells the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man. It is interesting to me that the Rich Man does not ask to be let out of Hell, he seems resigned, but he does want his family warned.
R. C. Sproul makes this insightful observation from Isaiah 6: “The Bible says that God is holy, holy, holy. Not that He is merely holy, or even holy, holy. He is holy, holy, holy. The Bible never says that God is love, love, love, or mercy, mercy, mercy, or wrath, wrath, wrath, or justice, justice, justice. It does say that He is holy, holy, holy, the whole earth is full of His glory.” – R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1985).
Rebecca Manley Pippert, Hope Has It’s Reasons (Harper, 1990)
Jo Vitale – apologist with Ravi Zacharias Ministries, quoted from Just Asking, during a podcast titled: How Can a Good God Send People to Hell?
In his book, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, (Penguin Random House, 2009), Timothy Keller goes into more depth on this topic in Chapter 5 – How can a loving God send people to Hell?
Revelation 21:3-4 “And behold I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
We have this strange sense of justice buried deep within us that constantly screams out for satisfaction at all the wrongs we witness. But where does this sense come from? Why do we feel entitled to demand that these wrongs be made right, that justice be brought to the unjust?
A cursory glance at the history of Western civilisation teaches us that concepts of morality and justice sprout from societies built on notions of absolute truth, or God. This isn’t to say that these societies perfectly followed their own standards, but they did have a framework in place which made sense of these concepts.
“Why do bad things happen to good people?” “I’m not perfect, but I definitely don’t deserve this.” Cliches pour forth as we attempt to defend ourselves from the constant attacks that life throws at us. Who exactly we are yelling at, nobody knows. Chance, the universe, God or god (us) – it doesn’t really matter. We just want to make it clear to whoever is listening that this isn’t fair.
We can only be justified in our cries for justice if there is some sort of imbalance going on around us – something has ripped in the fibre of reality and affects us all. Today, however, the prevailing worldview of functional atheism (or as Michael Horton calls itt, ‘the Sovereign Self’) provides no such foundation. If there is no God or sense of objective morality in the world, then no legitimate appeal to cosmic justice can be made. Suffering would be blind bad luck, with every person subject to the disposition of nature, others, and themselves.
But we know that this is all wrong, don’t we? We know deep within ourselves, whether we like to admit or not, that this call for justice is legitimate. We know this because there is something much more to humans than meets the eye. We are much more than a squishy collection of quarks, floating around the universe with nowhere to place our feet.
Do we really know what we are asking for when we beg for justice? The justice of God is absolute, righting the wrongs not only of genocide and racism, but also the diseases of gossip and early morning crankiness. If there is ultimate justice, then there is an ultimate standard – one which we all fall far short of.
Keeping the reality of our depravity in mind will help Christians immensely in our evangelistic efforts – if we remember that this present evil age is our crime, then we will be more likely to seek answers outside of our ourselves, at the cross of the Judge and Justifier.
A common apologetic among Christians – here it is, in traditional syllogism:
Premise 1: Person A is a Christian
Premise 2: Person A is a well-respected celebrity or cultural icon
Conclusion: Christianity is a reliable worldview
You won’t find this argument in any apologetic textbook but, nonetheless, there are countless examples. Bear Grylls on Alpha course posters. The recent hype around Chance The Rapper’s latest album, Coloring Book. Whenever Kendrick Lamar says God. Even New Zealand gets in on the action – rugby legends, DJs, and politicians fill a list of New Zealand-celebrity-Christians.
Christian news providers jump at the opportunity to publish when celebrities make even a passing comment about their ‘relationship with God’ or their personal spirituality. These comments almost never contain anything religiously distinctive, leading the hearers further from truth and closer to tragedy. Why do Christians do this? Why do the people of God feel this need for justification from on high?
Cult of personality
In many cultures, celebrities are respected and adored for their success and skills. That is why we flock to buy things with their faces on. People are simply more likely to subscribe to a good or service that fame is endorsing. I don’t know about you but I can’t see any difference between 1) buying Proactiv cause the Biebs said so and 2) Christianity being believable because he went to Hillsong two years ago. The Christian industrial complex is putting famous faces on their product, to increase souls. What type of message does this convey? That through the ways of the world, Christianity can achieve its goal.
The only problem – this is antithetical to the ways of God.
Wouldn’t it be nice…
Don’t get me wrong – we should rejoice when those with cultural influence are saved by Christ. But this should be no different to any other song of thankfulness.
I catch myself thinking for a second – how amazing would it be if Richard Dawkins became a Christian? What a testament to the power of the gospel it would be! He would become a poster-boy for the cause. Christians would remind each other around campfires of the great day that the modern walls of Jericho fell – the day the stone surrounding Dawkins’ heart came tumbling down. Jesus reigns.
The other side of the same coin – Dawkins continues his delusion, countless more reject the faith, and Christianity is further squeezed out of the public sphere. But Jesus still reigns. His gospel accomplishments on the sinner’s behalf still resound, still light the dark, still bring flesh to bones,
Jesus has no need of sidekicks or sponsors or hype-guys or makeup artists or audio-visual technicians or athletes or politicians. It is in coincidence that Christianity started its long decline when Constantine made it cool. The glory of this world will never bring about the glory that matters. Need I remind us all that Jesus was betrayed, tortured, and executed on a Roman cross – the most unglamorous and ugly combination of evils known to man.
A better way
The New Testament authors prick the ears with a different tune – the good news of God saving sinners always was, is, and will be foolishness to those who are wise, strong and influential in this world. Christianity’s missions is left in the hands of the stupid, weak and unimportant. Why would we then place our hope and trust in the trending? “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”
The gospel isn’t foolishness if the Greeks think it’s cool.
In our conversations with others about God – we will eventually encounter difficult questions like these:
“So you think I’m going to hell?”
“Do you think everyone who doesn’t believe like you are going to hell?”
“But why do I need Jesus?”
How do we answer such a pointed questions without sounding judgemental and bigoted?
Rather than being caught out – these questions are actually wonderful opportunities to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Check out this short clip where Greg Koukl outlines a tactical and gracious way you can answer these questions so you’re not caught out:
In online conversations I have seen and engaged in, the debate about who is meant to provide evidence for their beliefs and who isn’t often comes up. What starts off as an interesting dialogue can quickly become an argument around the abstract distinctions of justification and responsibility. I would like to suggest that the answer to this problem is to start asking more genuine questions. These questions should steer the conversation back on track, holding the appropriate person responsible for explanation while genuinely seeking to understand them.
What about Questions?
There are so many wonderful things about questions that it is rather surprising we don’t use them more often. Perhaps it is a result of our childhood, being told to stop asking “why” by our family or being shamed in our classrooms for asking a “dumb question”.
Why is it that most of us, particularly those in teaching positions, get frustrated when somebody asks “too many questions”? Could it be that part of the frustration is the internal struggle of not knowing how to comprehend much of what we take for granted as true? But what is it about not knowing the reasons behind our beliefs that gets under our skin? I have come to suspect that it is an innate sense of obligation, to have a reason for our beliefs, that Philosophers have come to describe as “The Burden of Proof”. Surely if we didn’t feel an obligation to answer a particular question, then we wouldn’t have a problem with it, right?
Who’s Burden?! What Burden?!
There is a decent amount of discussion in philosophy around what the burden of proof is, but like many things studied in philosophy, “the burden of proof” is usually understood clearly without the need of an explicit description. Nobody needs to explain the burden of proof to someone who already feels the responsibility to provide justification for what they think is true.
I have had many worldview conversations with people claiming that, because they don’t believe in God, it is up to me, positing a “positive phenomenon” (God), to bear the burden of convincing them of my worldview. In these situations, the most effective solution is avoiding any discussion of what “the burden of proof” is and who is responsible for bearing it. Responding by asking questions under-girding the assumptions they might have, or where they might be coming from, often leads the conversation to where it needs to be. It seems that we all have an innate recognition of this responsibility to answer questions, regardless of our status, education level, or how much we agree/disagree with society and mainstream views.
I propose that we all begin to ask more questions, relishing in the fact that many times we don’t have the answers to others’ challenges, but that this is actually OK. More often than not, people who are challenging you on your views won’t actually know what they think about their own views. Before volunteering to take on the burden of proving everything you think, take a step back and ask some clarification questions. Ask where their ideas come from and why they disagree with yours. Ask for what reasons they believe their further underlying views. Ask where they got their facts from and what relevant academics testify to these facts upon which their conclusions lie. Ask questions in the name of wanting to understand, wanting to learn, and not knowing all the answers, while under the protection of humility. Ask questions to put the responsibility of explanation where it needs to be, without bringing up another abstract debate on “the burden of proof”.
If someone asked you right now “How certain are you that you are going to heaven?” what would you say? Could you put a number on it? This is what is known as Assurance of Salvation, the knowledge that God has saved us from our sins and that we are in a right relationship with Him.
Now for an Apologist, one given to studying the supporting arguments and evidence for Christianity, the temptation is to give the very arguments themselves the role of being the ground of assurance of salvation. For example, it is demonstrable from arguments like the Kalam Cosmological Argument that a space-less, timeless, immaterial, and immensely powerful personal being exists, who we call God. When this argument is conjoined with the historical evidence for Jesus Christ, God is shown to be the God of the Bible, a being who loves the world and sent his son Jesus Christ to die for the sins of sinners, rescuing those who accept the offer of salvation from eternal judgement (Romans 10:9-10, John 3:36, Acts 4:12). However, using arguments and evidence as the sole ground for assurance of salvation fails for the 3 following reasons:
- The conclusions of Natural Theology are disputable
The conclusions of the arguments and evidence for the existence of God are very powerful, and if true, have a great deal to say about our lives and the world around us. However, many of these conclusions are supported by premises that are not absolutely certain, and as such, the conclusion cannot be absolutely certain either. If this is true, though we may believe beyond a reasonable doubt, we can never have complete confidence that we are indeed saved.
- Our ability to reason is fallible
It is clear that human beings do not have impeccable reasoning abilities. We often construct flawed arguments and make judgement errors. Can we really place full confidence in our own ability to reason? Now this is not to say that we cannot reach true conclusions in which we have a great deal of confidence, for if we could not, then it is odd that I would be writing this article seeking to persuade you of what I believe on this topic. I think what I believe is true, and that I have good reasons for it. I am not trying to argue that I am right even though I don’t know I am right. Rather, I mean that what we arrive at using our own reasoning, we ought to never simply assume as absolutely true. We must always be willing to admit we are wrong, and since certainty cannot exist where the possibility of being wrong is present, one cannot have absolute confidence.
- We have a limited and often errant experience and perception of the world
It is clear that we are limited and do not fully know the world around us. Some people have more knowledge than others while still other believe and have been taught false ideas. If one needed to have perfect knowledge of the world to truly believe in God, no person could ever fully believe. Moreover, many people have no evidence and some even believe that the evidence points away from God. Are we simply to assume that they are not justified in believing in God simply because of what they think they know? Surely not! God is not so cruel as to allow us the possibility of fumbling around in the dark, without any hope of seeing the light.
For these three reasons, I am skeptical of anyone who claims they are certain of the claims of Christianity simply by arguments and evidence, and nothing more. God is not a God who abandons us to the whims of our fallible faculties which we use to make probabilistic judgements on sometimes errant information. Scripture asserts that we can KNOW that we have eternal life (1 John 5:13). If arguments and evidence do not provide this, we must look elsewhere for the sure foundation of our belief. The purpose of Apologetics is actually somewhat modest. Instead of using it to know Christianity is true, we rather use it to SHOW that Christianity is true. However, this leaves the knowing position quite open, and that which fills it is what I will address in my next post.
Truth and Tolerance in a Whatever World
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