Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

The apologetics adventures of Matt and Madeleine Flannagan in New Zealand

Posted at the Christian Apologetics Alliance.

Excerpt:

Here in New Zealand, I am often told by evangelical leaders that we now live in a post-modern society, which has moved beyond “arguments” and that Apologetics is an outdated “modernist concept.” They say we need instead to “tell the story” so that people will see the “meta-narrative of scripture”—whatever exactly that means.

Last night, Madeleine and I were invited to a Christmas function for new lawyers, organised by the Law Society, the professional association for lawyers in New Zealand. The function was in a major law firm in central Auckland’s business district. So I was right in the thick of the up-and-coming legal professionals in New Zealand.

Anyway, Madeleine struck up a conversation with some young lawyers who were working for an arm of the government. They discussed aspects of their respective legal professions. Then one of them turned to me and asked me, “what do you do?” I answered that I was a theologian. Immediately, this caused them to pause (it often has this effect) and one told me he had been reading a book called The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. Without thinking, I said, “Oh, that book, it’s crap.” He replied, “Yeah, but you have to say that, don’t you?” I responded, “No I don’t actually.” I then mentioned to him the works of some other atheists to whom I would not respond in that fashion, despite the fact I disagreed with their conclusions.

Then, for the next thirty minutes, these lawyers began asking me genuine questions about the Christian faith.

You have to click through to read all the interesting questions and answers, but here is the conclusion:

Sometimes being an apologist in New Zealand is surreal. I commented to Madeleine on the way home that we, two people from west Auckland—a theologian who did not have full time employment and very little resources to support my ministry, and a lawyer from a tiny firm who largely does legal work for poor people who don’t pay handsomely—were at a function at one of the largest law firms in the country, in the central heart of Auckland city, sharing our faith with some of the most successful up-and-coming lawyers in NZ, many who worked for the government. How can Apologetics be boring when stuff like that happens? I also wonder, however, how many of my “post-modernist” colleagues with their youth churches and really “cool” music, would have been able to have that conversation with any real meaning with the urbane elite of Auckland.

I also have to say that this is not the first time something like this has happened. In the last few years Madeleine and I have frequently found similar things have happened over and over. Apologetics is not “dead”.  It is not a “thing of the past”.  It’s extremely relevant. What’s irrelevant are those who are so culturally out of touch that they don’t realise that the questions apologists address are being asked, and answers to those questions assumed, in the conversations of some of the top lawyers in New Zealand; and those people, ostensibly secular liberals, are hungry and interested in credible answers to those questions.

I can sense some of the frustration that Matt and Madeleine feel, because I also know what it is to do what actually works with no support or recognition. In my case, the problem is with the Church, which is largely opposed to apologetics and scholarship in general.

I was having a chat about Matt’s post with my friend Dina Monday night, and I told her that I believed that Christians are not entitled to many of the things that the world considers fun. We aren’t entitled to popularity, we aren’t entitled to happiness, we aren’t entitled to a life of comfort. But we are entitled to the joy of defending our faith to interested skeptics in a world that is chock-full of logic, historical evidence, and scientific evidence. That is one source of happiness that we are fully allowed to draw on. If we put in the time to study the laws of logic, and the evidence from mainstream science and history, then these wonderful encounters become possible. Anyone who has had a good encounter will tell you that it is a good feeling. It doesn’t make up for the difficult side of being a Christian, but it is something.

Here are a few Bible verses that I think are relevant to Matt’s post:

1 Peter 3:15-16:

15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,

16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

Matthew 10:32-33:

32 “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.

33 But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.

1 Corinthians 4:1-2:

So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God.

Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.

I like the third one especially.

God expects us to testify about his existence and character. And not by sharing our personal experiences, but with evidence. Fortunately, our task is easier because there is plenty of evidence available to us. This is the world that God has made, and his fingerprints are all over it. It is a joy to be asked questions and to have studied and prepared in order to know the answer. It good for us to be called by God to give a defense, and to be found faithful. Cultivating our intelligence through difficult and often dull study is one of the ways that we show God that we are his friends. We show him that when push comes to shove, we side with him. We are his friends and his allies.

Filed under: Mentoring, , , , , , , , , , ,

Douglas Groothuis’ exhortation to Christians to study apologetics

Dr. Groothuis’ article lays out 6 “enemies” to the task of apologetics. I’ll look at the first 4.

Enemy #1: We don’t defend God’s existence and character to other people

If we really cared about God like we say we do, then we would care enough to defend his reputation in public. If we really loved our neighbor and believed that they need to follow Jesus in order to be reconciled with God, we would tell them that. But we don’t really care enough about God when his reputation is slammed in public. That’s what being a good friend to God and to our neighbor requires.

Groothuis writes:

Too many Christians don’t seem to care that Christianity is routinely ridiculed as outdated, irrational, and narrow-minded in our culture. They may complain that this “offends” them (just as everyone else is complaining that one thing or another “offends” them), but they do little to counteract the charges by offering a defense of the Christian world view in a variety of settings. Yet Scripture commands all Christians to have a reason for the hope that is within them and to present this with gentleness and respect to unbelievers (1 Peter 3:15).

Our attitude should be that of the Apostle Paul who was “greatly distressed” when he beheld the idolatry of sophisticated Athens. This zeal for the truth of God led him into a fruitful apologetic encounter with the thinkers gathered to debate new ideas (see Acts 17). It should for us as well. Just as God “so loved the world” that he sent Jesus to set us right with God (John 3:16), Jesus’ disciples should so love the world that they endeavor to reach the lost by presenting the Gospel and answering objections to the Christian faith (John 17:18).

Enemy #2: We separate Christianity from the reasons and evidence that ground it

Many Christians alter their theology in order to “get along” with other religions that conflict with ours. Instead of wrestling with the competing truth claims of other religions, some Christians just change the nature of our religion so that it is just our personal preference or cultural narrative, instead of being about truth. If the Bible claims that Jesus rose from the dead, we reinterpret that historically testable claim so that it’s only true for us. If the Bible says that the universe began to exist, we reinterpret that scientifically testable claim so that it is only true for us.

Groothuis says:

For some Christians, faith means belief in the absence of evidence and argument. Worse yet, for some faith means belief in spite of evidence to the contrary. The more irrational our beliefs, the better–the more “spiritual” they are… When Christians opt for irrationalism, they become just another “religious option,” and are classified along with Heaven’s Gate, the Flat Earth Society, and other intellectually impaired groups.

Enemy #3: We don’t take the time to study the reasons and evidence we have

We don’t make time for preparing a defense for our beliefs by leveraging the resources produced by Christian scholars.

Groothuis says:

Many Christians are not aware of the tremendous intellectual resources available to defend “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3). This is largely because many major churches and parachurch organizations virtually ignore apologetics… Few evangelical sermons ever address the evidence for the existence of God, the resurrection of Jesus, the justice of hell, the supremacy of Christ, or the logical problems with nonChristian worldviews. Christian bestsellers, with rare exceptions, indulge in groundless apocalyptic speculations, exalt Christian celebrities (whose characters often do not fit their notoriety), and revel in how-to methods.

Enemy #4: We would rather be liked by people than be a friend to God

Somehow, we have gotten the idea that the purpose of Christianity is for us to be happy. Being popular and accepted by non-Christians makes us feel happy. Moral judgments are divisive, so we avoid making those. Exclusive salvation is divisive, so we avoid exclusivity. All of this so that our lives will be easier and happier.

Groothuis says:

In our pluralistic culture, a “live and let live” attitude is the norm, and a capitulation to social pressure haunts evangelicalism and drains its convictions. Too many evangelicals are more concerned about being “nice” and “tolerant” than being biblical or faithful to the exclusive Gospel found in their Bibles. Not enough evangelicals are willing to present and defend their faith in challenging situations, whether at school, at work, or in other public settings. The temptation is to privatize faith, to insulate and isolate it from public life entirely. Yes, we are Christians (in our hearts), but we have difficulty engaging anyone with what we believe and why we believe it. This is nothing less than cowardice and a betrayal of what we say we believe.

You can read the rest of the article here.

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

Dealing with objections to Christian apologetics

I found this post on the Possible Worlds blog. (H/T Apologetics 315)

He deals with the following five objections:

  1. You can never argue anyone into the kingdom.
  2. Doesn’t the Bible say to stay away from philosophy?
  3. We should do apologetics from the Word of God only.
  4. Apologetics removes the faith component.
  5. Only the select few can get involved in apologetics, therefore I have no reason to do it.

The fifth one, “not everyone has to do apologetics”, is the one I hear the most often from people:

That is simply not true! As Christians we have an obligation to engage in apologetics! 1 Peter 3:15 says, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.”

Peter’s message, in context, is that even in the face of persecution, we may suffer for our good lifestyle in Christ. If this is the case, give every man an answer for why you are doing that. I’m willing to bet Peter’s apologetic went along the lines of his sermon in Acts 2. In this sermon, Peter appealed to fulfilled Old Testament prophecy as well as eyewitness testimony of the Resurrection. Sounds like apologetics to me!

But what about those whose intellectual talents are somewhat lacking? Did Peter really expect them to be able to give a reason? Yes. Inasmuch as one is able, he must present an apologetic for Christ. Suppose one cannot follow complex philosophical arguments. What can he do? He may argue from personal experience or a changed life. He may point someone who is interested in the direction of apologetic resources. In essence, any Christian should learn as much as he is able to learn. Almost every Christian I know is capable of presenting the common-sense cosmological argument (“whatever begins to exist had a cause, the universe began to exist, therefore the universe had a cause”).

Not only is apologetics defensible and important in bringing certain types of people to Christ, it is also commanded of every believer. The Bible never commands the level of skill of an apologist, just that the believer holds and expresses a reason for his hope. The more I study the stronger in faith I become. There are always questions I will be unable to answer, but God has answered so many more in such wonderful ways I just have to trust him!

I hear that objection most from people who think that the Christian life consists of being happy and having the feeling that God does really appreciate you caring about him and trying to serve him effectively. I don’t think that is the right way to have a relationship with another person. You have to get to know them and incorporate their character and goals into your decision making. You accommodate them. You serve them.

I found some more reasons why people don’t do apologetics:

  1. Christians don’t seem to care that Christianity is routinely ridiculed
  2. Christians think that faith means belief in the absence of evidence and argument
  3. Christians are not aware of the tremendous intellectual resources available
  4. Christians are more concerned about being “nice” and “tolerant”
  5. Christians don’t want to take the time to study issues thoroughly

The post has my comments on those reasons.

The fact of the matter is that God’s existence and character are under attack, and what works is reason and evidence. Not feelings, not stories, and not being nice. Anyone can be nice. Christianity needs to be presented as TRUE, (by nice people).

My thoughts on this question are here. This is one of my favorite posts.

I’ve noticed that Christian women are often complaining about how to make men take an interest in them. I think the two best things to do to fix that is to get really good at fiscal conservatism and really good at apologetics. Men want women who are marriage-friendly (fiscally conservative) and who put their own happiness second to defend others (apologetics). That’s what fiscal conservatism and apologetics tells a man about your character. If a woman advocates for redistributing wealth to the poor through government, then she is opposed to traditional male rols (provider/protector) and has no idea how marriage is supposed to work in practice. If a woman makes excuses about why she does not have to know how to defend God’s existence and character, then she doesn’t have the ability to care about the needs and goals of others in relationships. Just because a woman says she wants marriage and to be a mother, it doesn’t mean she actually wants that. She may just want people (big and small) to make her happy but without having to care about what they want.

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

Are all religions basically the same?

UPDATE: Welcome visitors from The Western Experience! Thanks for the link, Jason!

I’m sure that all my readers will have noticed that there a huge number of different religions in the world. This is called religious pluralism. Religions all make claims about the way the universe is, and the way that we ought to act in order to solve the problems that we all face as human beings.

The law of non-contradiction

To start with, we all need to be familiar with the law of non-contradiction. This is the stuff that software engineers all learned in undergraduate computer science courses. Computer science is a lot like analytical philosophy because both study symbolic logic. Analytical philosophy is as rigorous as mathematics.

The law says that for any proposition P, P cannot be true and not true at the same time, and in the same context. For example, let P be the statement “it is raining outside my window right now”. It is impossible that the reality of the world be that it is raining outside my window right now, and not raining outside my window right now.

The external world is shared by all of us, and it is objective (it is not affected by what we think about it). When we make propositional claims, it is the external, mind-independent world that makes claims true or false. And by “world” I mean all of reality, past, present and future.

Similarities between religions

On a superficial level, religions are similar because they all try to answer the same kinds of questions:

  • what is the nature of the ultimate reality in the universe?
  • what is the fundamental problem faced by human beings?
  • what should human beings do to solve this problem?

These questions are shared by all religions, but on a more fundamental level, religions are all completely different because they give mutually exclusive answers to these questions. Therefore, according to the law of non-contradiction, they cannot all be true at the same time and in the same context.

Differences between religions

In this post, blogger Neil explains how the Christian Bible claims that Jesus died on a cross, but the Koran claims he did not die on a cross. How do we understand these two contradictory claims? Are they propositional truth claims about the external world, or something else? There are two answers.

Postmodernism: Treating religious claims as subjective nonsense

We could say that all religious claims are just nonsense, and are not intended to apply to the external world, but are just personal preference claims about each believer – they are neither true nor false. The problem is that the postmodernist is then being condescending to the religious adherent by redefining their own words.

Rationality: Treating religions claims as genuine claims about reality

We could instead avoid insulting believers by being condescending about their claims. We could say that all religious claims are exactly what the believers claim they are: real claims about the external world. We could then resolve the conflicts using the same tools we use in our everyday lives: the laws of logic and empirical evidence.

How do postmodernists reinterpret religious claims as non-propositional?

Here are a few ways that postmodernists reinterpret the conflicting claims of different religions:

  1. relativism: you reinterpret truth claims of the different religions so that they are claims of personal preference, which express the deluded myths that each individual religious person finds “fetching”
  2. pragmatism: you reinterpret truth claims of the different religions so that they are claims of personal selfishness, so that each religious believer chooses the delusion that is personally satisfying to them
  3. syncretism: you re-interpret truth claims of the different religions so that claims that are absolutely central, such as “was Jesus God?” are reinterpreted as being peripheral issues, and then the religions can all agree on the core of religious belief, such as advocacy of socialism, global warming and abortion

Why would postmodernists want to treat religious claims as nonsense?

In addition to the desperate desire to keep God from having authority over our moral decision-making (i.e. – sin, rebellion, etc.), there are 3 reasons why people try to treat religious claims as non-propositional nonsense.

  1. Ignorance: people do not know the conflicting truth claims that different religions make
  2. Laziness: people do not want to have to spend time evaluating the competing truth claims
  3. Cowardice: people do not want to investigate and debate truth claims: it makes them unpopular

Postmodernists have decided that the purpose of life is to be hedonistic, and not to worry about the world really is. They think that trying to find out the truth about our origins, our purpose, and our ultimate fate is hard work, and talking about it makes them unpopular. So they don’t want to do it.

But that is not what they say when you ask them. Instead, they say that disagreements about religion has caused a lot of wars, and so it’s better if we just reduce the question of truth in religion to personal preference. That way, everyone can choose the delusion that makes them happy, (although religions are all actually false).

But postmodernists are arrogant to redefine the claims of all religions as nonsense. And it is self-refuting because they are substituting their own view of religion as objectively true, which is just what they deny everyone else. And if disagreeing about religion causes wars, then why are they disagreeing with us about religion?

So then how do we deal with the plurality of religions?

The answer is to treat religion the exact same way as any other area of knowledge. We can tolerate people’s right to disagree, disagree while still being polite, and resolving disputes using logic, and evidence supplied from disciplines such as analytical philosophy, scientific investigation, and historical analysis.

People who want to involve emotion and intuition in the process of testing the conflicting religious claims can just butt out of the conversation. The search for truth should proceed irrespective of what you think about the truth claims of religion. Yes, the doctrine of Hell offends people, but that doesn’t make it false.

Further study

Portions of this article were borrowed from this lecture by philosopher Douglas Groothuis, in which he explains the how to think carefully, using the laws of logic, about religious claims and the fact of religious pluralism. Note that Doug is a lot less snarky than I am in the lecture.

Also, I noticed that Unbelievable has posted a debate between Muslim Shabir Ally and Christian Tony Costa on whether Jesus dried on a cross and whether he rose from the dead.

Here are some related posts on the question of postmodernism and testing religious claims. All of them are far, far, far less snarky than my post today.

Related objections answered:

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

Douglas Groothuis on the Six Enemies of Apologetic Engagement

I found a link to this article by Doug Groothuis on the importance of Christian apologetics over at Truthbomb Apologetics. He doesn’t necessarily endorse my snarkiness in this post, though.

Doug’s article is call-to-arms for Christians who do not view the defense of the faith as an integral part of their Christian life. In this post on why men are fleeing the feminized church I argued that apologetics is a necessary part of a healthy two-way relationship with God and that it also engages the men to express their masculinity in a Christian way.

Groothuis starts by recommending 3 books on the lack intellectual rigor in the evangelical church, and he then goes on to lay out 6 “enemies” to the task of apologetics.

First, the 3 books:

Mark Noll’s “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind” (Eerdmans, 1994) explores the historical roots of evangelical anti-intellectualism. Os Guinness’ “Fit Bodies, Fat Minds” (Baker Books, 1994), discusses some of the historical problems and also outlines what a Christian mind should look like. J.P. Moreland’s “Love Your God with all of Your Mind” (Navpress, 1997) explains why Christians don’t think, develops a biblical theology of the mind, and offers helpful apologetic arguments and strategies to empower the church intellectually.

I’ve read all of them and LYGWYM is by far the best. J.P. Moreland is a warrior. Videos and audio of his university campus lectures are here.

Enemy #1: We don’t really love God or our neighbors

If we really cared about God like we say we do, then we would care enough to defend his reputation in public. If we really loved our neighbor and believed that they need to follow Jesus in order to be reconciled with God, we would tell them that. But we don’t really care enough about God when his reputation is slammed in public. We don’t care that our neighbor has false beliefs, such as a belief in the eternal universe.

Groothuis writes:

Too many Christians don’t seem to care that Christianity is routinely ridiculed as outdated, irrational, and narrow-minded in our culture. They may complain that this “offends” them (just as everyone else is complaining that one thing or another “offends” them), but they do little to counteract the charges by offering a defense of the Christian world view in a variety of settings. Yet Scripture commands all Christians to have a reason for the hope that is within them and to present this with gentleness and respect to unbelievers (1 Peter 3:15).

Our attitude should be that of the Apostle Paul who was “greatly distressed” when he beheld the idolatry of sophisticated Athens. This zeal for the truth of God led him into a fruitful apologetic encounter with the thinkers gathered to debate new ideas (see Acts 17). It should for us as well. Just as God “so loved the world” that he sent Jesus to set us right with God (John 3:16), Jesus’ disciples should so love the world that they endeavor to reach the lost by presenting the Gospel and answering objections to the Christian faith (John 17:18).

Enemy #2: We distort Christian teachings in order to avoid disputes with other religions

As a result of the feminization of the church, we have altered our theology in order to “get along” with other religions that conflict with ours. Instead of wrestling with the competing truth claims of other religions, we just change the nature of our religion from objective knowledge to personal preference. If the Bible claims that Jesus rose from the dead, we reinterpret that historically testable claim as a preference claim. If the Bible says that the universe began to exist, we reinterpret that scientifically testable claim as a preference claim.

And it goes double for moral judgments and soteriological claims. The easiest way to make peace with people in these other religions is by dropping everything that offends our neighbors in other religions, like moral judgments and exclusive salvation. We simply decided that if Christianity claimed X and some other religion claimed not-X, that both could somehow be right. But this irrationality divorced Christianity from reason and made it into a personal preference instead of objective knowledge. It’s now just another option in the self-help buffet.

Groothuis says:

For some Christians, faith means belief in the absence of evidence and argument. Worse yet, for some faith means belief in spite of evidence to the contrary. The more irrational our beliefs, the better–the more “spiritual” they are… When Christians opt for irrationalism, they become just another “religious option,” and are classified along with Heaven’s Gate, the Flat Earth Society, and other intellectually impaired groups.

Enemy #3: We refuse to learn the evidences that support Christianity

We spend almost no time reading the kinds of non-fiction books that would inform us so that we are prepared to defend our beliefs. Instead, we put our best effort, our money and our thinking into school, work and other secular pursuits. We give Christianity a piece of our lives, and only allow it to serve us. We never serve it. We read fiction, watch TV and movies, pursue romantic relationships and play video games. But we have no time for preparing a defense based on actual facts and arguments.

Groothuis says:

Many Christians are not aware of the tremendous intellectual resources available to defend “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3). This is largely because many major churches and parachurch organizations virtually ignore apologetics… Few evangelical sermons ever address the evidence for the existence of God, the resurrection of Jesus, the justice of hell, the supremacy of Christ, or the logical problems with nonChristian worldviews. Christian bestsellers, with rare exceptions, indulge in groundless apocalyptic speculations, exalt Christian celebrities (whose characters often do not fit their notoriety), and revel in how-to methods.

Enemy #4: We refuse to defend God if it means being unpopular

Somehow, we have gotten the idea that the purpose of Christianity is for us to be happy. Being popular and accepted by non-Christians makes us happy. Therefore, we want to be popular. To be popular, we avoid being divisive with non-Christians. Moral judgments are divisive. Exclusive salvation is divisive. Christianity teaches moral rules and exclusive salvation. Therefore, we don’t talk about Christianity in order to avoid being divisive so that we can be popular and have the happy feelings that God wants us to have. But this is nowhere in the Bible.

Groothuis says:

In our pluralistic culture, a “live and let live” attitude is the norm, and a capitulation to social pressure haunts evangelicalism and drains its convictions. Too many evangelicals are more concerned about being “nice” and “tolerant” than being biblical or faithful to the exclusive Gospel found in their Bibles. Not enough evangelicals are willing to present and defend their faith in challenging situations, whether at school, at work, or in other public settings. The temptation is to privatize faith, to insulate and isolate it from public life entirely. Yes, we are Christians (in our hearts), but we have difficulty engaging anyone with what we believe and why we believe it. This is nothing less than cowardice and a betrayal of what we say we believe.

He goes on to exegete Colossians 4:2-6, Matthew 5:11-12, 1 Peter 4:14, Romans 1:16 and Matthew 28:18-20. The Bible just doesn’t support this anti-apologetics stance that seems to be so popular in the feminized church.

I’m out of space: …I’d like to say something about the other 2 enemies, but I am out of space. But that will just encourage you to click on the link and read the rest of the article, right?

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

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