Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Review of evidential apologetics book by pastor shows where church needs to improve

Whenever I talk to Christians, I find that they hold one of two views about what faith is.

The first view of faith is the Biblical view of faith as active trust in propositions we know to be true, because we have reasons and evidence to believe those propositions. This view is not only rooted in the Bible, but it extends through Augustine and Aquinas to the present day. I have written about this view of faith before, and quoted many theologians in support of it. In the Bible, people use miracles as a sign in order to convince skeptics. For example, Peter appeals to the resurrection in Acts 2. The Bible teaches that faith is active trusting based on evidence.

The second view is blind faith. This view is nowhere in the Bible, and this view asserts that becoming a Christian is a leap-of-faith in the dark against all the evidence. This view not only minimizes evidence, but it actually opposes presenting evidence to unbelievers and skeptics in the way that the Bible teaches. This view is nowhere in the Bible, and it was not the method used by Jesus or his followers. It is an unBiblical way of viewing faith, but it is very popular in some circles of Christianity. It is also popular among atheists, because this is what many Christian leaders and pastors tell them that faith is.

Consider this review of a recent book that defends the Gospels and the historicity of the resurrection by one such fideist pastor.

He writes:

There are, however, two significant shortcomings to the book.

First, Cold-Case Christianity places far too much emphasis on the role of extrabiblical sources. No doubt there is a legitimate role for biblical archaeology and extrabiblical writing from antiquity. Christianity is, after all, a faith firmly rooted in human history. But there is a grave danger when truth is suspended because of an apparent lack of corroboration from extrabiblical sources. And Wallace, I’m afraid, wanders too close to this dark side of apologetics.

All of chapter 12, for instance, is devoted to proving the Gospels have external corroborative evidence—“evidence that are independent of the Gospel documents yet verify the claims of the text” (183). Wallace then addresses the historicity of the pool of Bethesda and makes another worrying statement: “For many years, there was no evidence for such a place outside of John’s Gospel. Because Christianity makes historical claims, archaeology ought to be a tool we can use to see if these claims are, in fact, true” (201-202, emphasis added).

In other words, Wallace seems to suggest we cannot affirm the truth of the Gospel accounts without the stamp of approval from archaeology and other extrabiblical sources. Such reasoning is dangerous, not least because it cannot affirm the inerrancy of the Bible. But also, it places the final court of appeal in the realm of extrabiblical sources rather than of God’s all-sufficient, all-powerful Word.

That is a textbook definition of fideism – that belief is somehow more pious and praiseworthy the less evidence we have. And the best way to have less evidence is to study nothing at all, but to just make a leap-of-faith in the dark. Of course, a leap-of-faith can land you anywhere – Islam, Mormonism. Presumably this pastor is like the Mormons who eschew all evidence and prefer to detect the truth of Mormonism by “the burning of the bosom” which happens when people read the all-sufficient, all-powerful Book of Mormon. His view of faith is identical to theirs, and 180 degrees opposed to the Bible. He has made his leap-of-faith, and that leap-of-faith is not accountable to arguments and evidence. His faith is private and personal, based on his own feelings. He considers it blasphemous to have to demonstrate what he believes to those who disagree with him. Where is this in the Bible? It’s nowhere. But it is everywhere in anti-intellectual Christian circles.

There is a good response to this blind-faith pastor on Deeper Waters. Much less angry than my response.

Excerpt:

The dark side of apologetics? Did I somehow step into a Star Wars universe?

Yes. How horrible to show that the Bible is backed up by sources outside of it. How terrible to show that these events did not happen in a vacuum. Thankfully, no one in the Bible took this approach.

Except for the fact that when the gospel was being preached, there were no gospels per se and there were no epistles. Paul told Agrippa that the events done weren’t done in a corner. In other words, investigate the claims for yourself! The early testimony was eyewitness testimony. Sources like Tacitus and others show the eyewitnesses were right! This was not done in a corner! This was done out in the open! Archaeology helps us confirm the biblical writings and shows that unlike the pagan myths, these events were rooted in a place and time. Is there some danger that our faith will be destroyed by outside sources?

It really becomes a fideistic approach. If your worldview is true, you should have no problem putting it to the strictest scrutiny. If it is not, then you will have a problem. No Christian should fear further research into what they believe. No Christian should have a problem with extra-biblical sources. Now I do agree there is a problem with stating that EVERYTHING must be backed extra-biblically. I think this is a prejudice we too often have where nothing in the Bible can be considered historical unless it’s verified somewhere else. A gospel account alone could count as a historical claim itself that can be investigated, and indeed is in NT scholarship, but where we can get extra-biblical evidence, I’m all for it.

[...]Christianity is a faith that is rooted in evidences so we should be able to use evidences to demonstrate it. I have often been told by those of the presuppositional bent that the approach is used all the time in the Bible. The problem is I can’t find one. I get told passages like “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Yes. It is. Wisdom refers to godly living. It doesn’t refer to confirming the gospel to be true. When I look at the apostles in every case, I see them pointing to evidences.

It is pastors like Pastor Bungle above who are responsible for the great falling away from Christianity that we are seeing when we look at young people. We need pastors who connect the claims of the Christian worldview to evidence.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Pastor Matt: How apologetics saved my faith

Here’s a must-read post from Pastor Matt Rawlings whose reading list I wrote about before.

Excerpt:

I became a Christian at 24 after a cancer diagnosis.  I had been an atheist for 10 years but came to God in desperation.  I left Capitol Hill (and politics altogether) to learn about Christianity.  I attended what many believed was a conservative seminary but had slowly slipped into liberalism by the time I arrived in 1999.  I was sold on “higher criticism” (or a skeptical approach to the historicity and inerrency of Scripture) and joined the then growing “Emergent Church” movement.  Within a few years, I was where Rob Bell is now–a soft universalist with a condescending attitude toward conservatives.  Yet, I was also spiritually dead and was struggling with depression.  I was quickly headed back to the atheism I had thought I had left behind while praying for my life.

During this time of personal struggle, my wife and I were helping a small church in Charleston, West Virginia.  When an elder learned my wife had a degree in micro-biology and had helped overseen a science program at Cornell, he asked her to meet with the youth group and answer their questions about science and the faith.  In preparation, she picked up the book The Case for a Creator by Lee Strobel (Zondervan 2005).  She devoured the book and went on and on about wonderful it was and how I had to read it.  I resisted as the cover struck me as “fundamentalist nonsense.”  Yet, she persisted and it became clear that either I was going to read the book or spend a few nights on the couch!

I opened the book with a bad attitude.  After all, my seminary professors had told me that “apologetics is dead!” and that “Generation-X and -Y desired experience not ‘answers.’”  I was even more resistant when I saw the first few chapters take on evolution.  I was convinced Genesis 1-11 was all myth, Darwin had been proven correct and that only nutters questioned it.  But after reading Strobel’s interaction with Dr. Jonathan Wells and Dr. Stephen C. Meyer of the Discovery Institute, I realized I had no real counter argument to intelligent design.

Read the rest.

The Case for a Creator is one of my favorite apologetics books. I have read it once, but I’ve listened to the audio version TEN TIMES. This book more than any other is the perfect introduction to science apologetics for beginners. I really recommend the audio book as a companion to the print version.

When I read this post by Pastor Matt, I felt that his faith was not just castles built in the sky. A lot of pastors basically start by assuming (without any evidence) that the Bible is correct in everything it says, and then they start lecturing everyone else about what the Bible says without ever having done a moment of investigation into the evidence for or against what they are preaching about. They’ve never read anyone who disagrees with them, and they don’t know how to explain what they believe to anyone outside the church walls. I have to tell you that this is one of the the most uncomfortable feelings to have when you are not yet a Christian. You are in a building filled with people who don’t know whether what they believe is true. You are being lectured by a man who typically has no idea how to show others that what he is talking about is true, except for appealing to feelings. I don’t know about you, but that really makes me uncomfortable. I trust people more when I know they are good at something practical, like mechanical engineering, medicine, automobile mechanics, weight-lifting, nutrition or cooking. When you read outside the Bible, it’s basically treating Christianity like it’s a real area of knowledge. That makes me interested, because it means we are talking about something real, not just a personal preference or a subjective experience or a community custom.

Pastor Matt is different. He’s read tons of stuff outside the Bible, and he’s not presupposing anything when he preaches about God and Jesus. He’s got informed beliefs about this stuff. He’s authentic. And you can see the strength of his convictions by looking at what he’s read. He talks about his faith like we might talk about our professions. We have convictions about what we do that creates value for others because we know how to do it. When a pastor reads a lot on logic, philosophy, history and science, then he is able to know whether what he says he believes is really true or not out there in the real world. When I listen to my pastor and look at our church book store, I get very disappointed. It makes me wonder why I can’t go to a church like Pastor Matt’s church. Wouldn’t that be great? I would really fly out of bed on Sunday morning if I thought “what is he going to teach on this morning, that I can use at work on Monday morning?” I am always interested in hearing what someone else knows. I am one of those people who is always asking the dentist, the doctor, the mechanic, and the food preparers “how did you do that?” I even got the recipe for the cilantro-lime rice that Chipotle makes by asking the woman who was making my burrito bowl. How did you do it? I want to know how you know.

I have a good friend of mine right now who is going through a tough time with her church. She keeps telling me that Sunday school is very emotional, and clearly designed to comfort people and make them feel “gooey” (her word). This is a woman who is on fire academically and is making tons of money in a summer job in her field. She just got a new scholarship, too. She keeps thinking that Sunday school is supposed to be the time to learn about difficult things and practical things. It’s causing her to really get bored with church and even to look for a new church. I think a lot of young people are tired of being entertained in church, and they would like to get their minds on some real knowledge about God and what he’s done in history and in nature. I’ll bet that Pastor Matt doesn’t have any problems packing his church with young people. Young people can tell when someone really knows what they are talking about, the same way that a dentist knows about teeth, or that a tax preparer knows about tax laws.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , ,

Do pastors have a responsibility to know apologetics?

The latest episode of the Reasonable Faith podcast was all about a post done by Pastor Matt Rawlings. The post talked about how churches train children to become atheists.

Pastor Matt offered 6 points in his post:

  • Reason #1 – Churches seem overprotective.
  • Reason #2 – Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.
  • Reason #3 – Churches come across as antagonistic to science.
  • Reason #4 – Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.
  • Reason #5 – They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.
  • Reason #6 – The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.

In his post Pastor Matt said this:

Too many churches do in fact present a shallow faith that skips doctrine and apologetics for “how to…” sermons that are little more than self-help talks with scripture sprinkled over them.  The refusal to learn theology and how to defend the faith as well as to spend the time thinking about how to present them in a clear and winsome manner is at the heart of all four of the valid objections by young people to the evangelical church.  Pastors must simply take this responsibility seriously and put in the time and effort.  There is no other answer.

[...]Det. J. Warner Wallace has argued that we have to T.R.A.I.N. Christian students rather than teach them but I think we need to train all of our fellow Christians (and he would agree).  Training is harder than teaching.  We need to remember that it takes at least seven times for the average person today to hear something before they retain it.  Also, most people do not truly understand something until they put it into practice.  Thus, pastors must be trained in order train congregations to truly be lay theologians and apologists.  The pastors must then challenge the congregation to use their skills reach out to the lost and help each other.  And all of those trained must all help to look after the young to insure they know their faith so well that they do not fall for the poor arguments for atheism.  This means pastors must implement rigorous programs for the people God has entrusted to them.

Pastor Matt lays the blame squarely on pastors for at least some of the problem. And I agree with him. But Dr. Craig asserted in his podcast that pastors should not be responsible to learn apologetics, because they were too busy with all the other duties that pastors have to do. He gave some examples, but they were things like weddings, counseling children about drugs and marriage counseling.

So what I wanted to say about this is that Pastor Matt is right and Dr. Craig is wrong. A pastor should have at least put in the time to learn apologetics so that he is able to inject it into his sermon, where appropriate, and point people to where they can find answers when asked. It seems to me that if you are going to get up there and preach about a bunch of things, then you’d better know at least a little about why those things are true. And it can’t just be “because the Bible says so” or because “that’s just how I was raised”. Respect for the truth claims of Christianity has to come from the top, even if the pastor leverages the skills of people in the church to address different issues in more detail.

Pastor Matt responded to Dr. Craig in this post.

Excerpt:

The biggest disagreement I have with Dr. Craig is that he argues pastors are too busy to be trained in apologetics.  As a pastor and the son of a pastor, I strongly differ!  Unfortunately, what I have witnessed (and heard from several seasoned pastors of very large churches) is that too many pastors are in fact lazy.  I have heard from half a dozen leaders of churches of more than 10,000 that they cannot find young seminary grads who will put in even 40 solid hours a week!  Those statements may ruffle a few feathers and certainly there are hard-working, if not overworked pastors out there but they are apparently few and far between.

Also, pastors often try to do things they shouldn’t do.  As a lawyer who used to defend churches, ministers often get into trouble for counseling those with serious issues that are beyond their training and experience.  A person with addiction issues needs something like Celebrate Recovery, a person with emotional problems needs a licensed professional counselor.  Ministers need to recognize their limits and engage in areas that they can and must address instead of those that are already well covered by other trained professionals.

But to be fair to Dr. Craig, I think he may have misunderstood what I mean by training.  I don’t mean a pastor has to earn a master’s degree or doctorate in apologetics or philosophy.  There are many short but effective training programs out there such as his own Defenders class, the distance certificate from BIOLA, Frank Turek’s short but intense CrossExamined program (that I am attending this week), etc.

I agree with Dr. Craig that we should train layman to create an apologetics team in our churches (see this post) but the pastor has to take the lead.  No pastor can expect his or her church to do what he or she is not willing to do.  If the pastor doesn’t evangelize, the church won’t.  If the pastor is not studying the Bible carefully, the church won’t.  Also, any pastor working in today’s post-Christian culture must know how to meet the challenges of said culture.  It is just part of the gig.  So, every minister should seek some type of solid apologetics training and commit to regular study on the subject as well as subscribe to certain podcasts such as Reasonable Faith.

I wanted to add that I didn’t agree with any of the other points where Dr. Craig disagreed with Pastor Matt. It was really surprising to me, but I think Pastor Matt is right across the board. Leadership starts from the top – how are you supposed to be able to assess different people’s requests to teach apologetics or bring in speakers if you are not comfortable discerning what is good and what isn’t yourself? If the pastor is going to be making those kinds of decisions, then he has to understand apologetics to some degree. Maybe not with formal training, but as much as a typical blogger like me would. Also, don’t you find it weird – the idea that a pastor can get up there and preach on things to people and not be able to show anyone some reasons why these things are true? Christians have to be ready to give an answer, and that answer cannot just be “because the Bible says so”.

Filed under: News, , ,

The trouble with avoiding controversial topics

Lindsay blogs about it on her Lindsay’s logic blog.

Intro:

According to these definitions, a controversial topic is simply one on which many people disagree. In some cases, this may be due to the topic being merely opinion. If you are asking which ice cream flavor is the best or which sports car is the best or which season of the year is the best, these are all matters of opinion and there is no right answer. There is no absolute truth in these cases because the inherent question is about what people prefer. Different people prefer different things.

But in spite of the fact that there is a lot of disagreement on the best ice cream flavor (vanilla, in case anyone was wondering), we don’t usually try to shut people up when they express an opinion, even if it differs from ours. And we usually don’t call these opinions “controversial.” In fact, I have never heard anyone refer to ice cream flavors as a controversial issue. (What a conversation that would be. “I like vanilla best.” “Oh, don’t talk about ice cream flavors because they’re so controversial.”)

When people talk about something being “controversial” they usually do it when it’s not just a matter of opinion, but they want to believe it is. They want to use the disagreement out there to avoid taking a side on an important topic.

Sometimes they don’t want to take a side because it’s unpopular. If they take a side, the people on the other side might not like them.

Sometimes they don’t want to have to put the effort into studying the issue. Laziness makes them avoid finding out which position is the correct one.

Sometimes they don’t like the implications involved in taking a position. What if believing one way or the other means they have to change something about their life? Perhaps give up something they enjoy or do something they don’t like?

Sometimes they have the mistaken idea that a “controversial” topic doesn’t have a correct answer and thus neither side should be dogmatic.

Some see taking a side on something that evokes a lot of disagreement as somehow “divisive” or “polarizing” and therefore bad.

Whatever the reason, these people want to stay “neutral” and not take a side. And, often, they don’t want to hear anyone else’s position on the matter either.

And this is where I want to turn this topic to parenting. I have met people who fell away from their faith after being raised in a Christian home, and this is what I’ve noticed about them. The parents are usually uncomfortable with listening to the other side of “controversial” issues. Does God exist? Too controversial. Is there unjustified evil and suffering? Too controversial. Should abortion be legal? Too controversial. Are non-Christian religions false? Too controversial. Is premarital sex morally permissible? Too controversial. Nothing can be discussed, because we all have to feel happy – and be seen by the neighbors to BE happy. So shut it and keep smiling.

It reminds me of this post from Beyond Teachable Moments, where the author was interviewing a woman who lost her faith in college before returning to the faith.

Read this:

 Throughout the phases of my childhood, expose me to different types of social situations with people from all walks of life. I think having experience talking with a wide range of people with differing worldviews is so important. In other words, get me outside the safe Christian “bubble”, but do so with the support of parents and with an open discussion of why people think/believe differently and why we believe what we believe. Do not just tell me “believe this because I told you it is true or because I said so.”

Learn what is going on in popular culture within my peer group. What are kids my age thinking, watching, and listening to? Be involved; don’t view every outside influence as a threat, but help and encourage me to analyze situations and make decisions accordingly. Don’t try to shelter me from everything. I need to develop confidence and a foundation in the little things if you expect me to be able to take on the big things at university.

Don’t use me to make you look good in front of other people at church, I can see straight through that. It does not feel good and drives me far away. What matters is what is going on inside, not what is projected. Looking perfect and going through the motions does nothing. The very basis for Christianity is what is going on in the heart. Only by letting Jesus work in your heart can actions follow with true authenticity.

If every topic is off limit in the home, then the child will very likely drop Christianity like a hot potato when she hits college. You do not teach a child how to debate controversial topics by shushing them in order to maintain your happiness – or to keep up appearances. It’s even worse when the shushing is done with screaming and arguments. Controversial topics must be discussed openly and respectfully. Work has to be done by parents to study these issues. Debates (like WLC debates) must be watched by the whole family. Both sides of issues must be represented properly. But how many times does this happen in Christian homes? And how many times does this happen in the Christian church? You can attend an evangelical church for from birth to death in America and never hear one iota of useful information related to controversial topics. The parents don’t know, the pastors don’t know, and that’s the way they like it.

Many Christian parents are happy for their kids to “be nice” and “look good” while they are home even if they go wild in college. It’s so “unexpected” they will say later. They did such a good job – took them to church every week, and they got their Bible memorization and praise hymn singing badges. Somehow, we have convinced ourselves that not knowing anything and not teaching anything about controversial issues is a great parenting technique. Parents and pastors are sure that it’s more “pious” to just believe things without evidence, and not discuss and debate alternate points of view. And easier, too – leaves more time to for “devotional” activities, which don’t require study. The more we spiritualize Christianity instead of debating it, the more likely our children will turn on God.

The most alarming thing is when I tell Christian parents and Christian pastors this, and they start to make excuses about how faith is beyond reason and evidence. How do you stop a problem like this when the parents and the pastors are more focused on looking good and feeling good than they are on knowing whether what they believe is true? You can’t. We have to recognize that this pious refusal to get down and dirty with the truth claims of Christianity is motivated by laziness. It’s not praiseworthy at all to chase Christianity into some mystical realm beyond the reach of logic and evidence. Yet this is the dominant view in Christian homes and churches.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , ,

The loss of pastoral credibility

Eric Chabot of Think Apologetics posted this on Facebook.

It’s a medium-length read. I want to highlight one problem – the problem of pastors never showing their work.

Excerpt:

Around this point, it can start to dawn on one that many church leaders have only been trained in forms of discourse such as the sermon and, to a much lesser extent, the essay. Both forms privilege a single voice—their voice—and don’t provide a natural space for response, questioning, and challenge. Their opinions have been assumed to be superior to opposing viewpoints, but have never been demonstrated to be so. While they may have spoken or written about opposing voices, they are quite unaccustomed to speaking or writing to them (not to mention listening to or being cross-examined by them). There are benefits to the fact that the sermon is a form of discourse that doesn’t invite interruption or talking back, but not when this is the only form of discourse its practitioners are adept in.

Many church leaders have been raised and trained in ideologically homogenous cultures or contexts that discouraged oppositional discourse. Many have been protected from hostile perspectives that might unsettle their faith. Throughout, their theological opinions and voices have been given a privileged status, immune from challenge. Nominal challenges could be brushed off by a reassertion of the monologue. They were safe to speak about and habitually misrepresent other voices to their hearers and readers, without needing to worry about those voices ever enjoying the power to answer them back. Many of the more widely read members of their congregations may have had an inkling of the weakness of their positions in the past: the Internet just makes it more apparent.

A system is only as effective as its weakest component in a particular operation. The same is true of the human mind and the communities formed around thinkers. Where the capacity of agonistic reasoning is lacking, all else can be compromised. If one’s opinion has never been subjected to and tried by rigorous cross-examination, it probably isn’t worth much. If one lacks the capacity to keep a level head when one’s views are challenged, one’s voice will be of limited use in most real world situations, where dialogue and dispute is the norm and where we have to think in conversation with people who disagree with us.

The teachers of the Church provide the members of the Church with a model for their own thinking. The teacher of the Church does not just teach others what to believe, but also how to believe, and the process by which one arrives at a theological position. This is one reason why it is crucial that teachers ‘show their working’ on a regular basis. When teaching from a biblical text, for instance, the teacher isn’t just teaching the meaning of that particular text, but how Scripture should be approached and interpreted more generally. An essential part of the teaching that the members of any church need is that of dealing with opposing viewpoints. One way or another, every church provides such teaching. However, the lesson conveyed in all too many churches is that opposing voices are to be dismissed, ignored, or ‘answered’ with a reactive reassertion of the dogmatic line, rather than a reasoned response.

This is probably the biggest thing that annoys me about church. Being talked at by somebody who never explains why they believe what they believe, and who never answers criticisms to what they believe. They don’t want to show their work. I really don’t like that. Being forced to sit still and silent while someone else talks.

In math class, you don’t get any marks for just writing the correct answer to a non-trivial problems. You have to show the steps that led to your answer. I think talking about why we believe, though, can be agitating to some people who are there in church to be comforted and to have feelings and emotions. So that’s probably why pastors don’t show their work, because it disrupts the comfort / happiness vibe. Still though, I think it would be a good idea for us (and I mean me, too!) to get better at hearing voices on the other side. The way I usually do this is by watching debates and reading debate books. I like there to be two sides interacting. I get annoyed when there is only one side. That’s why I prefer reading evidential apologetics to philosophical theology and I prefer philosophical theology to devotional reading (A.W. Tozer and G. K. Chesterton are the worst things to read in my view, and most men I know can’t stand reading them). The more testable something is, the easier it is on me. I don’t like to be preached at about things that can’t be tested. It annoys me, even if I agree with it.

Filed under: Commentary, , , ,

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