Posts

Apologetics is the Answer to Everything

Anthony Horvath, a pro-life advocate and Executive Director of Athanatos Christian Ministries, has written a provocative post about the importance of apologetics for the witness of the church in the post-Christian world:

“Some Christians will begin seeing red just from reading the title of this entry.  They will be angry and annoyed and may even jump up out of their seats.  Therefore, let me say it again:  apologetics is the answer to everything.

Whether it be the rapid decline of the Christian Church in America, the brisk acceptance of homosexual ‘marriage,’ the prevailing and deepening culture of death, the shallow spirituality of many of the Christians who actually remain in the Church- and certainly much of the lack of action- and many other issues can track back to nothing less than disobedience, for the Scriptures themselves command:  “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”  1 Peter 3:15

Horvath argues that our proclamation of the Gospel has been harmed by an abandonment of an assumption that was central to the witness of the early Christians:

“What is this assumption that the apostles carried with them wherever they went and the unbelieving world they interacted with shared, and generally still tends to share, yet many Christians today have jettisoned?

It is simply this:  that what is objectively true and real in the world requires our assent in mind, body, and soul.

In short, apologetics rejects the relativistic and post-modern notions that we all get to make up our own ‘truth’ as we go.   Apologetics carries with it the assumption that what is described in the Bible really happened.  Jesus, to his very own disciples, appealed to the fact that they themselves had witnessed miracles- that really happened.  The Bereans strove to show that what Paul was saying really happened was really consistent with their Scriptures.  Paul directed Agrippa to investigate what had really happened.  If Jesus did not really rise from the dead, we are to be pitied more than all men.

Horvath suggests that, in contrast to the early church, we have succumbed to the postmodern denial of both the existence of objective truth and human access to it. This has consequences:

“If you walked around thinking that your articles of faith were in fact nothing more than articles of faith without any grounding in reality, how willing would you be to share your views?   If this is what you thought, how excited would you be to evangelize?  Easily answered:  not very.”

What is his solution?

“Apologetics is the answer to everything- in the sense that knowing what you believe and why you believe it is that which gives you the confidence to act in a society that does not share your values and beliefs.   The notion that the Church should confine itself to ‘spiritual’ issues has more than passing resemblance to the gnostic heresy.    God created ‘earthly’ things, too, and said they were good!  Ah, but is that just an article of faith, or is it an actual truth?

The apologetically minded individual tends to be someone who believes that what he is presenting and defending is an actual truth about the real state of affairs.   Not presenting and defending the Christian faith implies to Christian and nonChristian alike that Christianity is a collection of arbitrary dogmas.  Merely asserting those dogmas accomplishes the same thing.  Defending the Christian faith poorly cements the notion in people’s minds (Christians as well!) that ‘faith is believing what we know isn’t true.’”

You may not agree with everything he says, but it is worth taking the time to read the whole thing.

Auckland Event: The New Atheism, Science, and Morality

Thinking Matters is pleased to announce that we’ll be hosting Dr Glenn Peoples at Auckland University next month. Glenn will be speaking on morality and the New Atheist’s endeavour to anchor morality outside of God.

If you’ve read Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, or Richard Dawkins, one thing you’ll notice is that they take pains to point out that they are not relativists. They believe quite strongly that there are objective moral truths. Indeed, many of their most colourful arguments against religion and Christianity depend on this. But if they disagree with the tradition of other atheists, such as Nietzsche (who argued that morality “stands or falls with faith in God”1), how do they account for moral realism, in a naturalistic universe? Despite Richard Dawkins admission that science has no methods for deciding what is ethical, Sam Harris has recently contended that we should think of moral facts as being scientific facts. With neuroscience opening up the world of the human brain to us, Harris suggests we can now understand moral facts in terms of facts that describe the human brain and its experience of happiness and suffering.

In his talk, Glenn will examine the arguments for this view, explore their success, and show why the New Atheists are unable to preserve genuine moral truths in a world without God.

If you’re interested in the topic of morality and New Atheism, this will be a great event for you. It will also be a great opportunity for those who might have read Glenn’s blog and listened to his podcast to finally meet him!

Here are the full details:

New Atheism, Science, and Morality: Is there a naturalistic basis of moral truth?

TIME: Monday, September 6 · 7:00pm – 9:00pm

LOCATION: The University of Auckland, Library Basement Room 15, 5 Alfred St, Auckland

COST: Free

Can the natural world tell us what is right and wrong, without need for God? Can moral facts be grounded scientifically? Thinking Matters, in association with the Evangelical Union, is proud to host Christian philosopher Dr Glenn Peoples at the University of Auckland this September. Dr Peoples will be examining the arguments of popular atheist and best-selling author, Sam Harris, and argue that the attempt to ground morality outside of God ultimately fails.

Dr Glenn Peoples is a graduate in theology (BD) from the Bible College of NZ and has a Masters degree (MTHeol) and a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Otago. For over ten years he has been writing and speaking, both in New Zealand and abroad, on intellectual issues that Christians face, including the place of faith in the public square, justice and human rights, and the reasons for Christian belief. He lives in Dunedin with his wife Ruth and their four children.

The Facebook page for the event is here.

1. Nietzsche, F. (1968) Twilight of the Idols and the Anti-Christ. New York. Penguin Books.

Auckland Debate: Is God the Source of Morality?

This August, Raymond Bradley and Matthew Flannagan will debate the topic “Is God the Source of Morality?

Is it rational to ground right and wrong in commands issued by God?”

The debate will be held at the University of Auckland on Monday 2 August at 7pm, in “The Centennial” 260 – 098 OGGB (the bottom level of the Business School) on 12 Grafton Rd, Auckland.

Bradley is an Emeritus Professor of Philosophy with areas of specialty in Philosophical Logic, Metaphysics, Logical Atomism; he has previously debated William Lane Craig, Edward Blaiklock and many other Christian scholars and describes himself as an older generation “new atheist”.

Flannagan is an Auckland based Philosopher and Theologian with areas of specialty in Philosophy of Religion, Ethics and Theology; he has previously debated Bill Cooke, Zoe During and writes for the popular Christian blog MandM.

The format of the debate will be as follows:

Dr Bradley: Opening Comments [20 min]
Dr Flannagan: Opening Comments [20 min]
Dr Bradley: Reply to Dr Flannagan [10 min]
Dr Flannagan: Reply to Dr Bradley[10 min]
Dr Bradley: Closing Comments [7 min]
Dr Flannagan: Closing Comments [7 min]
Questions from the floor: [30 min]

The moderator for the debate will be Professor John Bishop.

Both Bradley and Flannagan are experienced and engaging public speakers who are practiced at pitching their topics to suit their audiences. So, invite all your friends, and block out the evening of Monday 2 August from 7-9 pm now and make sure you get to the debate early to locate parking and grab a good seat.

This debate is brought to you by the Evangelical Union and the Reason and Science Society as part of the University of Auckland’s Jesus week/Atheist week, with support from Thinking Matters.

The event will be videoed and will be published on this blog. Entry is free and any and all are welcome.

There is even a Facebook page you can rsvp on and use to invite your friends.

UPDATE: (7 August)

For the audio from the debate: Click here to stream the debate,  or click here to download the mp3.

What Would Jesus Say to a Relativist?

In this sermon at Castle Pines Community Church, Douglas Groothius offers a useful overview of religious and moral relativism. He talks about Jesus as a thinker and a model for us in communicating truth and approaching intellectual problems. Groothius shows the importance of apologetics, and valuing the Christian worldview as true in both our own Christian walk and in talking with unbelievers.

What Would Jesus Say to a Relativist? – Douglas Groothius

(Original file is found here)

Groothius is professor of philosophy at Denver Seminary and blogs at The Constructive Curmudgeon.

Is there salvation outside Christianity?

Wintery Knight has pointed out a helpful summary by Stephen Notman of the classic title in the Zondervan Counterpoints series on Christian theology, Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World. Edited by Dennis L. Okholm and Timothy R. Phillips, the book surveys the different approaches in reconciling religious pluralism with the exclusive claims of Christ.newbookcover

Traditionally, the debate has been characterized by the positions of exclusivism, inclusivism and pluralism. The title includes a fourth position; agnosticism (defended by Alister McGrath). Here is a quick run-down of the positions in the debate:

  • Exclusivism/Particularism: This view maintains that the central claims of Christianity are true and only those who explicitly place faith in the Christ of the Bible are saved. Salvation cannot be achieved through the claims or structures of other religions. It is important to point out that exclusivists do not say that every religion is wrong in every respect, but that only where other religions contradict the self-disclosure of Christ, they are wrong. This is defended by by R. Douglas Geivett and W. Gary Phillips.
  • Inclusivism: This view can be broken down into different positions. Generally, inclusivists affirm the truth of fundamental Christian claims, but nevertheless appeal to the love of God and insist that God has revealed Himself, even in saving ways, within other religions.  All who are saved are in fact saved on account of the person and work of Jesus Christ, but conscious faith in Jesus is not necessary: some may be saved who have never heard of him, and may respond positively to the light they have received.
    • Soft inclusivism (Agnosticism): Unconvinced by the clarity of teaching of Scripture on whether those outside Christianity are truly condemned, advocates allow for the faint possibility that God may save some who have never heard of Christ – so long as these individuals respond to God’s grace in Creation and entrust themselves in repentance and faith. Some also go further in arguing that there is biblical reason to be hopeful and not simply agnostic about the possibility of salvation for those outside Christianity. Alister McGrath puts forward a version of soft inclusivism in the book.
    • Hard inclusivism: This view differs from radical pluralism in that it does argue for Christ as the absolute basis of a person’s salvation. But while Jesus may have been God’s principal plan of salvation for humanity, it is argued that salvation itself is not unavailable in other religions. Unlike exclusivism or soft inclusivism, this view emphasizes believing, but not believing in Christ. Jesus is therefore ontologically necessary, but not epistemologically necessary. Some hard inclusivists will also concede that God may yet use other religions as instruments of his salvation. Clark Pinnock argues for this position.
  • Religious Pluralism: This view relativizes every religious claim. According to it, no religion can advance any legitimate claim of superiority over any other religion. Every religion has the same moral and spiritual weight, and offers an equally valid path to salvation. John Hick has been one of the leading voices of this position, and he defends it in Four Views.

Read Stephen Notman’s summary of the debate in the book.

Although no longer recent, the book remains a significant effort to represent the strongest positions and the strongest advocates for those positions. R. Douglas Geivett and W. Gary Phillips put forward a convincing exegesis of the important texts (Acts 4:12; John 3:16, 18; Romans 10:9-15; and John 14:6; 17:20) and provide a robust defense of the traditional Christian position. For anyone who has pondered these questions, Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World is an excellent introduction.

For further reading on the topic, Ronald Nash’s Is Jesus the Only Savior? is a great book, or Paul Copan’s article If you had been born in another country, is it at all likely that you would be a Christian? The latest issue of Philosophia Christi also features a dialogue on religious pluralism with scholars Keith Yandell, Paul Moser and Paul Knitter.