Friday, November 26, 2010

Strengthening the Faith: Apologetics in Your Home & Church

Strengthening Faith: Apologetics in Your Family & Church – The Church at Cedar Creek

Sunday, November 14, 2010

NOTE: This is the text of a sermon preached two weeks ago at a vibrant, thriving church near Stanford, Kentucky. The desire and intent was to inspire church members to engage in apologetic ministry in their homes and through their church ministries.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

National Geographic & The Power of Worldview

Joel Achenbach, “Lost Giants.” National Geographic 218.4 (October 2010): 90-109.
David Quammen, “Jane: Fifty Years at Gombe.” National Geographic 218.4 (Octobewr 2010): 110-29.

I have blogged before about the power of worldview. Specifically, I have argued that worldview exerts influence over how we interpret and accommodate new data, information, and arguments that we encounter.

The October 2010 edition of National Geographic contained a fascinating article about extinct megafauna (animals) in Australia. Over the past 180 years, numerous fossilized remains of massive wombats, kangaroos, tapirs, thunderbirds, wallabies, and marsupial lions have been discovered. Paleontologists debate the causes of their extinction – which current theories estimate to have occurred approximately 45,000 years ago. Some postulate a cataclysmic ecological (or metereological) event; others suggest that the arrival of humans (currently estimated to have arrived in Australia approximately 50,000 years ago) caused a precipitous decline in megafauna.

Within the context of the intramural debate, scientists involved make surprising admissions about the power of worldview, paradigm, and interpretation.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Preaching to the Choir? Intentionally Apologetic Sermons

NOTE: In September, Brian Auten's apologetics uber-site apologetics315 began publishing a series of blog essays on initiating apologetic ministries in your local church. The series concluded yesterday, with a final essay by yours truly on intentionally apologetic preaching. I have posted below the longer version of the essay publishing on apologetics315 - it's really the same essay with an introductory illustration. Brian has also compiled and published a very helpful list of apologetics resources - copy and paste the link below to find some great material. Included on that page are links to the e-book and i-tunes versions of the essay series. I hope you find that helpful - and enjoy the essay on intentionally engaging skeptics in your preaching.

Preaching to the Choir? Intentionally Apologetic Sermon Preparation

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Music, Media, and Movies: The Quest for the Minds of America - Part III of IV. Legend or Lord? Jesus in Popular Culture

Music, Media & Movies: The Quest for the Minds of America
St. Stephen’s Church, Louisville KY

Wednesday, October 6, 2010
Part III. Legend or Lord: Jesus in Pop Culture

I. INTRODUCTION – Review of Last Week

Two weeks ago we began our survey of Music, Media, and Movies with a survey of “The War of Worldviews: The Cultural Battle for the American Mind”. I proposed that we can all become critically engaged participants in popular culture by asking four reflective questions. (1) How does this affect me? my walk with God? (2) What standards of behavior are promoted or normalized? (3) What worldview/philosophy is promoted or normalized? (4) How does this reflect God’s truth? God’s kingdom?

Last week we looked particularly at biblical sexual ethics and the sexual ethics presented in popular culture. We looked at various aspects of sexual morality, but there were a couple of things that we did not get around to, which I would like to mention briefly before we get into this evening’s topic of conversation (the presentation of Jesus in popular culture).

Music, Media, and Movies: The Quest for the Minds of America, Part II of IV. Sex and / The City / of God

Music, Media & Movies: The Quest for the Minds of America
St. Stephen’s Church, Louisville KY

Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Part II. Sex and The City of God: Pop Culture & Biblical Sexual Ethics

I. INTRODUCTION – Review of Last Week

Last week we began our survey of Music, Media, and Movies with a survey of “The War of Worldviews: The Cultural Battle for the American Mind”. I proposed that we can all become critically engaged participants in popular culture by asking four reflective questions. (1) How does this affect me? my walk with God? (2) What standards of behavior are promoted or normalized? (3) What worldview/philosophy is promoted or normalized? (4) How does this reflect God’s truth? God’s kingdom?

Over the coming three Wednesday nights, we will ask these questions of one another with regards to various popular culture expressions. Next week, we will focus in on the presentation of Jesus Christ in popular culture. Our final Wednesday together we will look at the supernatural in movies and other media.


Tonight, however, we are going consider popular culture and biblical sexual ethics.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Book Review: God is Great, God is Good (2009)

Craig, William Lane, and Chad Meister, eds. God is Great, God is Good: Why Believing in God is Reasonable and Responsible. Downers Grove: IVP, 2009. $19.00

The 21st century has seen the emergence of a vocal and public cadre of ‘New Atheists’, headed by prolific authors and speakers like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris. The current volume, God is Great, God is Good: Why Believing in God is Reasonable and Responsible, responds directly to the New Atheists’ argument that theism is not only unreasonable, but patently false, socially unacceptable, and dangerously evil (7-8). Editors Meister and Craig seek to compile contributions from “top-notch scholars from across the disciplines” to comprehensively deal with the charges laid by New Atheists.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Book Review: Revolutions in Worldview (2007)

Revolutions in Worldview: Understanding the Flow of Western Thought. W. Andrew Hoffecker, ed. New Jersey: P&R, 2007. 424 pp.

In the Preface to this collection of essays, W. Andrew Hoffecker defines worldview as a “one’s most basic beliefs and framework of understanding.” (xi) Worldview affects every aspect of human life, and affects all people (consciously or unconsciously). Worldview thinking is both inevitable (xii) and pervasive. Revolutions in Worldview pursues a fundamental thesis very clearly: “The thesis of this book is that Western thought has experienced a series of changes so profound they should be called revolutions.” (xiii) Accordingly, the book contains ten chapters, each one tracing the contours of a dominant worldview—ancient Greek, biblical Hebrew, New Testament Christian, early medieval Christianity, late medieval Christianity, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, nineteenth-century skepticism, and rising postmodernism.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Music, Media, and Movies: The Quest for the Minds of America - Part I of IV

NOTE: The following are teaching notes from the first in a series of four Wednesday night studies at St. Stephen's Church in Louisville.

Music, Media & Movies: The Quest for the Minds of America
St. Stephen’s Church, Louisville KY

Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Part I. War of the World(view)s: The Cultural Battle for the American Mind

Mark 12:28-31 lays out the greatest commandment:

28One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?"
29"The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' 31The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."

The Great Commandment is going to be our key text for the next four weeks. We are going to seek to love the Lord our God with our full heart, and soul, and mind, and strength. Our focus is going to be particularly upon loving God with all our minds – to grow in our intellectual love for God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Rabbi Blumenthal and the Resurrection of Jesus

Yesterday I received an email pointing me to an article arguing against the resurrection of Jesus Christ, posted by an orthodox (I think) Jewish Rabbi. His article is here:

What follows is the emailed response I sent - certainly not an exhaustive or comprehensive critique, but brief and to the point. ...

I will pick out just one point in Blumenthal's article to critique:

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Response to Common Sense Atheism's Response to 'Does God Exist?'

Five months ago, Apologetics 315 published a series of blog essays on the question, “Is Christianity True?” I submitted a brief essay on the existence of God (Does God Exist?) as a prelude to the series. After all, if there is no God, it is somewhat irrelevant to argue for the existence of God. The blog essays have also been released on iTunes and as an e-book (also available from There was considerable interaction and discussion following the publication of each essay – from Christians of various stripes as well as skeptics and atheists of various stripes. It was a wonderful exercise in apologetic dialogue. Apparently, the essay series also attracted Luke’s attention, from ‘commonsenseatheism’. He has just begun publishing blog essays promoted as ‘refutations’ of the original Apologetics 315 essays. On Saturday, he released the first essay, his response to my original essay. You can read his full response here -

I have no intention of entering into a lengthy call-and-response, but nonetheless I think it is worthwhile to respond to some of the points that Luke raises – several of them are insightful and worthy of deep consideration. I do not propose to give full answers to them (any more than I intended to give full versions of any of the arguments I provided in my original essay) – but hopefully enough food for thought.

Does God Exist? A Brief Blog Essay

NOTE: The following blog essay was originally published in April on Apologetics 315 as part of a series surrounding the question: "Is Christianity True?" Yesterday, the blog 'commonsenseatheism' began publishing a series of 'rebuttals' to the Apologetics 315 series. Since my essay was the first in that series, mine was also the first to receive a 'response'. My next post will contain my response to Luke's response to this brief essay. So I am putting this essay here to set the context for what will follow. Plus - I thought the essay was pretty darn good!


Friday, September 10, 2010

How to Get Apologetics Into Your Church

This spring, Brian Auten of Apologetics315 published a series of web essays - "Is Christianity True?" - from a consortium of 20-odd Christian apologists, teachers, and writers. Now, he is back at it - this time with a series of blog essays on the topic 'How to Get Apologetics Into Your Church'. The essay series is envisioned as a springboard for pastors, deacons, church leaders, Sunday school teachers, and laypeople to implement apologetics within their local church. It seeks to demonstrate not only the desperate NEED for apologetic ministry, but also the possibility for actually doing apologetics in the church.

The essay series was launched today, and included an outline of upcoming essays in the series. Two of my own contributions will be included in the series - one on Monday (Sep 13), entitled 'An Apologetic for Apologetics', and the second on Thursday October 7 entitled 'Preaching to the Choir? Intentionally Apologetic Sermons'.

I encourage you to check out Brian's superb apologetics site, and to follow the upcoming series. The link is below. [For what it's worth, I would rate Apologetics 315, without a doubt, the most helpful and exhaustive site for Christian apologetics on the web. Browse around and see for yourself.]

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Today's 'Pensee' - Diversion

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), mathematician and philosopher, left behind a series of 'fragments' which he had been compiling in preparation for a major work defending the Christian faith. Though his work was never completed, he has left behind much that is worth pondering. To that end, here are a couple of Pascal's 'Pensees' on the nature of man and his desire for diversions. In these two brief fragments, Pascal suggests that human beings seek after diversions to keep themselves from reflecting on their true nature and circumstances. If they reflected on their situation, humans would become 'miserable', and might just seek after the truth (Christianity, to Pascal, of course).

"Anyone who does not see the vanity of the world is very vain himself. So who does not see it, apart from young people whose lives are all noise, diversions, and thoughts for the future? But take away their diversion and you will see them bored to extinction. Then they feel their nullity without recognizing it, for nothing could be more wretched than to be intolerably depressed as soon as one is reduced to introspection with no means of diversion." (36)

"The only good thing for men is to be diverted from thinking of what they are, either by some occupation which takes their mind off it, or by some novel and agreeable passion which keeps them busy ..., in short what is called diversion." (137)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Cat is Out of the Bag - Stephen Hawking and Creation

For many years, Stephen Hawking has played coy regarding the possible role (or lack thereof) for a divine Creator.

His popular "A Brief History of Time" dropped heavy hints of his position. At one point, he insists that science has "uncovered a set of laws that, within the limits set by the uncertainty principle, tell us how the universe will develop with time, if we know its state at any one time. These laws may have originally been decreed by God, but it appears that he has since left the universe to evolve according to them and does not now intervene in it." (126) God is officially acknowledged as a possible initial Creator, but his role is vastly diminished from the common Christian role.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Book Review: Craig and Copan's "Contending With Christianity's Critics"

Contending With Christianity’s Critics: Answering New Atheists & Other Objectors. Ed. Paul Copan and William Lane Craig. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2009. 293 pp. $19.99.

Contending With Christianity’s Critics is the product of academic presentations at the Evangelical Philosophical Society’s annual conferences dedicated to “addressing challenges from the New Atheists and other contemporary critics” (viii). It is divided neatly into three sections with six chapters each. Part I (‘The Existence of God’) responds to atheistic arguments against God’s existence. Part II (‘The Jesus of History’) responds to skeptical reconceptions of Jesus of Nazareth. Part III (‘The Coherence of Christian Doctrine’) defends the coherence of theism broadly and the more particular doctrines of trinity, incarnation, atonement, hell, and omniscience. Contending is a useful anthology of articles geared towards establishing the rationality of the Christian faith. What follows is a very brief summary of each article’s thesis.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Avery Dulles on the Purpose of Apologetics

Cardinal Avery Dulles lays out an excellent summary of what apologetics does and does not accomplish. Consider this quotation an appendix of sorts to my previous blog entry.

“In pressing the case for their discipline, apologists should keep in mind that it is neither necessary nor sufficient for salutary acts of faith. It is not necessary, for we all know people who have strong faith without having ever read a word of apologetics. It is not sufficient, because faith is a grace-given submission to the Word of God, not a conclusion from human arguments. Apologetics has a more modest task. It seeks to show why it is reasonable, with the help of grace, to accept God’s word as it comes to us through Scripture and the Church. Reflective believers can be troubled by serious temptations against faith unless they find reasons for believing. Converts, in particular, will normally deliberate for some time about the reasons for embracing the faith. … there are sufficient signs to make the assent of faith objectively justifiable. The task of apologetics is to discover these signs and organize them in such a way as to be persuasive to particular audiences. The arguments can never prove the truth of Christianity beyond all possibility of doubt, but they can show that it is reasonable to believe and that the arguments against Christianity are not decisive. God’s grace will do the rest.” (Dulles, Avery Cardinal. A History of Apologetics. 2nd ed. San Francisco: Ignatius, 2004, p. 367)

The Apologetics Matrix: The Need for and Purpose of Apologetics

This is the text of a sermon preached in St. Albert, Alberta, Canada, just over a month ago.

The Apologetics Matrix – Grace Family Church, St. Albert; July 18, 2010

Two years ago, I left a beloved ministry at Edmonton Chinese Baptist Church to pursue a Ph.D. in Apologetics at Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. I dragged my beautiful wife and three children 3500km across the continent to settle in to a new city and country and go back to school. Why would I do such a crazy thing? We moved in obedience to God’s calling, and in response to a passion and conviction that God had planted within me. This morning I want to share my passion for apologetics with you, in the hopes that God will instill within you a similar passion and desire.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Do All Religious Roads Lead to Heaven? The Question of Religious Pluralism

NOTE: This is a sermon preached in Edmonton last Sunday (August 1).

Do All Religious Roads Lead to Heaven? The Incoherence of Religious Pluralism


John had been a devout Christian his whole life – since as long as he could remember. He had always believed that Jesus Christ was God in the flesh, had died as an atoning sacrifice for his sins, and rose again from the dead on the third day. John had no doubt that Christianity was true, and that it was the only path to personal knowledge of God and eternal life. Many years later, John moved to a new neighborhood where he was surrounded by neighbors of different faiths. A Muslim family moved in next door; both husband and wife were devout followers of Islam; they practiced the five daily prayers, observed a daylight-hour fast throughout the month of Ramadan, and eagerly anticipated their participation in the Hajj, a pilgrimage to Mecca. Further down the street was a Hindu family which attended the local Hindu temple faithfully, offering the prescribed sacrifices and seeking to practice right morality in order to accumulate positive karma. Behind their house, a Buddhist couple offered tutorials in transcendental meditation, seeking to bring their friends towards detachment from self and attainment of enlightenment. John’s Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist neighbors were all sincere and devout followers of non-Christian religious traditions. They believed that what they believed was really true, and John found it existentially impossible to insist that they were mistaken in their beliefs and condemned to a godless hell.

One night, John attended a lecture at the local ‘Rainbow Spirituality Center’ where the speaker argued that all human religious traditions – including Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism – were simply different paths to the same goal. All religions, the speaker insisted, brought one into true knowledge of the divine reality – the ‘Ultimate Reality’, as the speaker insisted on calling it. Christianity was a true path to knowledge of God for Christians; Islam was a true path to knowledge of Allah for Muslims; Hinduism was a true path to union with Brahman for Hindus; and Buddhism was a true path to Nirvana for Buddhists. The path is different, but the goal, effectiveness, and worth are the same. John did not know it at the time, but the speaker was promoting a very popular and attractive view called ‘religious pluralism’ – the perspective that are equally valid historical and cultural responses to the divine reality, and are equally to be treasured, welcomed, and valued. In a sense, religious pluralism argues that all religious roads lead to heaven. Today I want us to consider religious pluralism and its relationship to orthodox Christianity. In particular, I want to look at the pluralist belief that all religious roads lead to heaven; I will suggest to you that religious pluralism has three fatal flaws which ultimately reduce it to incoherence.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Why Do 'Bad' Things Happen to 'Good' People?

Why Do “Bad” Things Happen To “Good” People? – July 18, 2010 – Agape Chinese Baptist Church

NOTE: This is a message preached in Edmonton last Sunday. Please do not think that this is all that could be said (or that I would say) about the issue. However, there are, as always, time considerations when preaching.

Why do bad things happen to good people? This is one of the most haunting questions facing modern man. Why does such seemingly senseless tragedy strike such seemingly innocent victims? Why are many babies born with deformities or handicaps? Why are young women in southern Sudan raped and beaten by armed militia from the north? Why are girls in Thailand sold into sexual slavery to provide a few months income for their families and to satisfy the perversions of Western tourists? Why does a massive tsunami wipe out hundreds of villages and take the lives of hundreds of thousands of southeast Asians?

To put the question in another way, why does God allow bad things to happen to good people? If God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving, why is there such deep and senseless evil and suffering on earth? David Hume, the eighteenth century atheist philosopher, stated the logical problem of evil when he inquired about God, "Is He willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then He is impotent. Is He able, but not willing? Then He is malevolent. Is He both able and willing? Whence then is evil?"

According to Hume, and many skeptics since, an all-powerful and loving God would not permit the existence of the evil that we perceive and experience. Indeed, since Hume’s day, the ‘problem of evil’, as it is known, has been the strongest challenge to Christian belief, and a key argument put forward in favor of atheism. The argument is basically thus: ‘if the Christian God exists, then evil would not be. Evil is, therefore God is not.’

We all struggle to understand why God allows horrible things to happen to people who do not deserve it. This afternoon, my desire is to ponder this issue together. I will argue that we can come to a better understanding of why bad things happen to good people by identifying the who, the why, the what, and the how of evil and suffering. Who causes evil? Why does Almighty God allow evil? What does God do about evil? And How are we to respond to evil? As we search out an understanding of the who, why, what, and how of evil, I pray that God will illuminate our hearts and minds.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Can We Trust the New Testament Texts?

The Textual Integrity of the New Testament
Sunday July 18, 2010 lesson – Tawa. J. Anderson
Agape Chinese Baptist Church

NOTE: This is a recap of the Sunday school lesson notes that I shared this past Sunday at Agape Chinese Baptist Church in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Enjoy! The posting is similar to an earlier one on textual integrity.

I. RECAP from last week: Six reasons to trust the Gospels’ historical reliability

II. The Importance of Textual Integrity

As an evangelical Christian, I acknowledge the New Testament (and the Old Testament, but that’s another story) as the inspired, inerrant, and authoritative Word of God – God’s revelation of His character, actions, purpose, and calling to His people. The text of the New Testament is central to our Christian faith. For example, we talked last week about the historical reliability of the New Testament Gospels. One of the reasons we can trust their accuracy is that they were written very soon after the death and resurrection of Christ. Eyewitnesses – both Christian and non-Christian – were present who could (and would) have contradicted any false historical claims contained in the Gospels. This is all fine and good – but what if the text, the words, of the Gospels were changed after their initial writing? That is, what if the words that we have in Matthew’s Gospel are not an accurate reflection of what Matthew actually wrote, but have been radically changed by later scribes and copyists? The words would no longer be a reflection of early eyewitness testimony.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Historical Reliability of the New Testament

The Reliability of the New Testament Gospels
Sunday July 11, 2010 – Agape Chinese Baptist Church Sunday school lesson

I. Introduction

Matthew 6:19-23 is one of my favorite Gospel passages. In it, Jesus says:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

This passage is powerful on many levels. First, it is a reminder that the things of God are more valuable than the things of this earth. You can’t take your earthly treasure with you when you die. Material things – the stuff we all pursue to greater or lesser degrees – are transitory. That nice Toyota Camry in the parking lot could be stolen during church this morning, or vandalized at home tomorrow, or demolished in an accident on Tuesday. For all I know, my precious piano in our Louisville townhouse has already been stolen or wrecked in our absence. Stuff doesn’t last. Spiritual treasures do. Second, the passage conveys the power of our worldview. The lens through which we view the world – our proverbial eyes in verses 22 and 23 – determines a great deal of how things affect us. If one’s eyes, one’s worldview, entirely discounts the very possibility of God’s existence, then no amount of evidence and argumentation will be able to change their mind. If the light within, the worldview, is darkness, how great indeed is the darkness that ensues. And third, the passage warns that we cannot serve both God and Money. Materialism is not a new temptation and snare for Christians – it pervaded 1st century Judaism and Christianity as well. God’s people have always been tempted to chase after the fruits of materialism instead of the fruits of the Spirit. This is nothing new. Jesus simply warns us, starkly, that we must make our choice. Money will master us unless we allow God to be our Master. It cannot be both ways. Indeed, this little passage carries deep, rich teaching for followers of Jesus Christ.

But have you ever wondered – did Jesus really say that? That is, are those words, which appear in my Bible as red-letter words, truly words which were uttered by Jesus of Nazareth? In the 1980s, a group of scholars known as the Jesus Seminar began publishing their theory that the vast majority of words attributed to Jesus in the Gospels do not actually originate in Jesus. They argue that the Gospels are unreliable, theologically-colored texts. In their view, “the historical Jesus has been overlaid by Christian legend, myth, and metaphysics and thus scarcely resembled the Christ figure presented in the Gospels and worshiped by the church today.” In their professional democratic opinion, less than 20% of Jesus’ words recorded in the Gospels are understood to be actually his own words; the rest are legendary additions.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Redemption of Suffering Through Resurrection

The following is the text from a biblical meditation on suffering and the resurrection of Christ, a message preached through a translator (the multi-talented and always-wonderful Rosalyn Lo) in the Cantonese worship service at Edmonton Chinese Baptist Church.

NOTE: Particularly acute observers will note that this post bears a striking resemblance to an earlier blog entry ... I am indeed aware of that.

July 11, 2010 – Suffering in Light of the Resurrection of Christ

Suffering is a universal fact of human life. Everybody experiences pain, loneliness, grief, or sorrow - in one way or another, we all hurt. As a teenaged atheist, I despised suffering, particularly because it seemed pointless. There was no hope in the midst of grief, no redemption in the midst of pain; nothing to mitigate or offset the severity of suffering. However, coming to know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord has changed the way that I perceive suffering. This morning, I want to suggest to you that the resurrection of Jesus Christ informs and transforms our experience of grief, sickness, pain, “senseless” tragedy, and persecution - suffering is redeemed and made comprehensible through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The empty tomb assures our own bodily resurrection and eternal life and gives us an eternal perspective that looks beyond our temporal situation.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Consumerism and the Gospel

Reader's Digest had an interesting article about Canadians and their spending habits during the current recession. The basic argument in the article (July 2010 edition, pages 58-62) is that the restraint shown during the recession (lower spending) was a temporary blip which will be reversed once people feel more secure in their jobs again. The thriftiness of our grandparents' generation, which survived through the Great Depression by reducing discretionary spending, value shopping, and do-it-yourself, appears to be dead and gone.

There are all kinds of significant spiritual and moral issues that arise from the article.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Caught in the Matrix: The Power of Worldview

The following is the text of a sermon preached at Edmonton Chinese Baptist Church (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada) on Sunday, June 27, 2010.

Caught in The Matrix: The Power of Worldview – ECBC, June 27, 2010

Romans 12:1-2 reads: Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Eleven years ago, the remarkable movie, The Matrix, was released. It was followed by two sequels in 2003, and ranks as one of the most successful Hollywood franchises. The Matrix is built around the premise that the world as we experience it is an illusion—the result of an intricate computer simulation. Human-created artificial intelligence have taken over the ‘real world’ and enslaved human beings to suck the heat and energy out of their bodies. The real world sees human bodies ‘grown’ in vast fields, hooked up to electrical inputs to harvest their resources, and also hooked up to visual simulators that treat them to a virtual reality. This virtual reality, known as ‘The Matrix’, resembles human life on earth as we know it (in 1999, when the movie was released). Human beings who are in reality hooked up to machines have the vivid experience of working normal jobs, having relationships, and so forth. The virtual reality is so accurate that people do not realize they are being manipulated and deceived.

However, a group of humans has been awakened to the true nature of reality, and they wage a quiet rebellion against The Matrix. In the movie, the focus is on Neo Anderson, a computer hacker who questions his reality but has no idea of what is out there. Morpheus and Trinity, two ‘liberated’ humans, seek to enlighten Neo. They offer him two pills, one of which will return him to his virtual reality life, the other of which will show him what is really real. Neo famously takes the red pill, and his world is forever changed. He will never look at things the same way again.

This morning I want to talk about the power of worldview. In particular, I want to suggest that each of you can comprehend the importance of cultivating a Biblical worldview by identifying three key ways that worldview affects our thoughts and perceptions. Before we get to the influence of worldview, however, it is necessary to lay some foundational groundwork.

What is a worldview? A worldview is a lens through which we view the world around us. Our worldview contains a set of fundamental assumptions and understandings about how the world works. Our worldview is a person-specific matrix—a perception of reality, a filter through which everything flows as we seek to make sense of external data. Every worldview answers at least five fundamental questions: 1. Where did we come from? (or: the existence and nature of God); 2. What is the nature of reality? (or: the nature and character of the physical world); 3. What is wrong with us? (or: the origin and nature of man); 4. What is the solution to the problem? (or: the nature of salvation); and 5. Where are we going? (or: the nature of life after death). Every worldview makes assumptions in each of those four areas. For example: the atheist worldview claims that the universe sprang into existence from nothingness with no explanation, life arose on primordial earth through random chemical reactions, and human life evolved through random mutation and natural selection; our primary problem is enslavement to a superstitious worldview that promotes religious belief; the solution to the problem is intellectual evolution; and after we die we entirely cease to be. The Christian worldview has substantially different answers. In the beginning was God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All that is was created by Him out of nothingness; at its creation, everything was declared good by God. The problem with the world is the result of man’s rebellion and fall into sin. Instead of harmony and communion, mankind now experiences broken relationships with God, with self, with fellow human beings, and with God’s creation. God provides the means for redemption through the atoning death of Jesus—broken relationships can be healed and reconciled in Christ. After death, all men are judged on the basis of their relationship with God in Christ—believers experience eternal life in the presence of God. The difference between these two worldview matrices is significant, and greatly affects the way that we perceive the world around us.

Every person has a worldview—worldview is ubiquitous and universal. Some worldviews are consciously acknowledged; some are unconsciously entrenched. For example, I consciously hold a Christian theistic worldview which proclaims and worships God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Many, however, unknowingly embrace a worldview which precludes the very possibility of God’s existence. Some worldviews are critically analyzed; others are unquestioningly embraced. For example, Gary Habermas grew up in a Christian home, but had his faith shaken by trials and tribulations, and by atheistic university professors. Dr. Habermas was forced to critically examine his worldview, and after years of philosophical and emotional searching, he concluded that Christianity was correct. He remains a vibrant Christian today, and a world-class philosopher and professor as well. Finally, some worldviews are challenged and eventually rejected; others are held firmly for life. For example, Billy Graham and Charles Templeton began their adult life on the same path—as promising and powerful Christian evangelists. In their mid-20s, they simultaneously went through a deep crisis of faith and belief. Billy Graham remained on the Christian path; Charles Templeton questioned and eventually rejected the Christian worldview, and is now an elderly agnostic.

So worldviews can be conscious or unconscious; examined or unexamined; rejected or maintained. But worldviews are like souls—everyone has one, even if they think they don’t. Unfortunately, the worldview of many (perhaps most) Canadians is unconscious and unexamined. The Greek philosopher Socrates declared, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” To modify Socrates’ wisdom, I would also argue that the unexamined worldview is not worth holding. As Christians, we need to consciously hold and examine our worldview, and seek to see reality through the correct interpretive lenses. My purpose is not to argue for or establish the Christian worldview in its entirety. Rather, I want us to look at the importance of worldview in general, and draw some conclusions. Particularly, I suggest that each one of us can understand the necessity of cultivating a Christian worldview by understanding three essential ways they influence our interpretation of evidence and arguments. Through examining the three ways that worldview influences our interpretation of external data, I pray that we will understand how we should critically examine worldviews—our own and other peoples’.

I love detective shows, like Law & Order, and particularly Monk. When cops or crown attorneys have a working thesis concerning a particular crime, the way they treat evidence is affected by how that evidence relates to their governing thesis. For example, if they have a suspect who they think committed the crime in question, tiny bits of evidence will strengthen their position. In one Monk episode, called Monk and the Astronaut, Adrian Monk investigates the murder (a staged suicide) of a former call girl who was about to publish a revealing autobiography. Monk quickly becomes convinced that the murderer is a prominent NASA astronaut and rising politician. During the investigation, it is suggested to Monk that the woman’s autobiography was going to include a chapter relating how the suspect was intimately involved with the dead call-girl earlier, and was arrested at one point for beating her to a pulp. When Monk hears that, it supports his thesis that the astronaut is “the guy”. It provides “motive” for the murder. The evidence is not airtight—there are no surviving manuscripts of the autobiography, no solid proof that the woman was going to “out” the suspect, no concrete evidence that the call-girl was beaten up by the suspect. But it doesn’t take a big piece of evidence to support or maintain Monk’s theory.

As it is with criminal theories, so it is with worldview. It takes relatively less evidence (or less persuasive arguments) to support an existing worldview. This is the first way in which worldview affects the way we treat external data. Tiny shreds of external confirmation support our worldview and are clung to accordingly. You can see this with proponents of evolution. According to Darwin’s original theory, the fossil record should be replete with multitudes of examples of intermediate species, transitional fossils which highlight the evolution from one distinct species into another. While evolutionists acknowledge that the vast fossil evidence predicted by early Darwinists is simply not there, the theory persists. And every year or two, you hear about the proclamation of a new fossil discovery of a professed “transitional species”. There are not many of these intermediates, certainly not as many as predicted; but proponents of an evolutionary worldview cling to each new proposed discovery as “proof” of the truth of the theory. Alternatively, Christians who believe in life after death, that this physical life is only the introduction to eternity, can point to near-death experiences as proof that there is at least a minimal existence and consciousness after death. It doesn’t take a significant amount of corroborating evidence to support or reinforce an existing worldview.

A second way that worldview affects our interpretation of evidence and argumentation is in the accommodation of new, relatively neutral evidence. Simply put, worldviews interpret new data or arguments in a self-affirming manner. One example is the layers evident in the Grand Canyon. Mainstream geologists look at the data, carbon-date the rocks within the layers, and conclude quite logically that the various layers are the product of layers of sediment laid down millions of years after one another. This fits quite nicely within their basic worldview assumption that the earth is billions of years old, and that events on earth have progressed over time through predictable and lengthy physical processes.

A minority of geologists (known as young-earth creationists), however, look at the same physical data and come to radically different conclusions about what it means. From their perspective, the layers and even the ancient appearance of the Grand Canyon is not the result of millions of years of erosion, but rather represents the catastrophic effects of a global flood described in Genesis 6. The dire consequences of the flood, in their view, explains the inaccuracy of carbon-dating the rocks in those sediment strata—the flood changed the composition of the atmosphere, thereby rendering long-term past carbon dating useless. Young-earth geologists begin with a radically different set of assumptions, and thus interpret the same physical data in a radically different way. It must be emphasized that both groups of geologists cannot possibly be right. The data of the Grand Canyon cannot mean both that the earth is billions of years old and the rocks are layers of sediment laid down millions of years after one another; AND that the earth is only thousands of years old and the evident layers are the result of a single catastrophic flood. One camp is correct in their interpretation and the other is incorrect—or, perhaps, both camps are incorrect and some other explanation is the right one. For our purposes, it is not important who is right—what’s important is to note the power of worldview in determining how physical data is interpreted. The point is that worldviews interpret new data or arguments in a self-affirming manner. Young-earth geologists accommodate the data to fit their prevailing worldview; old-earth geologists do the same. If at all possible, people will accommodate new data within their worldview, rather than altering their worldview to suit new data.

For example, in Matthew 12:22-24, the Pharisees have a negative response to Jesus’ miraculous ministry. Then they brought to Jesus a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. All the people were astonished and said, ‘Could this be the Son of David?’ But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, ‘It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.’ Jesus proceeds to rebuke them for their incoherence and their spiritual closed-mindedness. But what we often miss when we read this passage today is that the Pharisees were doing what comes entirely naturally to us as human beings. They were seeking to accommodate new data, new evidence, within their existing worldview presuppositions. They presumed that God worked through the established religious leadership and channels of second-temple Judaism – the rabbis, priests, temple sacrifices, and daily prayers. Jesus certainly did not fit that model – he proclaimed authority over the Sabbath, healed and taught in his own name and on his own authority. He was a rebel against the religious system. The Pharisees could not fit Jesus within the legitimate religious structure of Israel, hence they had to lump him in with illegitimate religious powers—Satan. Thus, they did not acknowledge the divine origins of Jesus or His ministry. Jesus’ power was unmistakeable; they had to attribute that power to something. The something could not be God, since Jesus was not one of them. Therefore, the power had to be Satan. While we rightly critique the Pharisees for missing the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God in the person and ministry of Christ, let us also notice that they are simply applying their worldview to new and difficult data. The point, again, is that we seek to accommodate new data or information within our existing worldview.

Sometimes this requires a minor adjustment to the worldview. For example, the absence of transitional species in the fossil record has not led evolutionary theorists to abandon their commitment to random mutation and common descent. Rather, the underlying worldview is tweaked to explain the lack of supporting evidence. Hence, Stephen Jay Gould proposed punctuated equilibrium, whereby new species arise very quickly with a large number of mutative changes present in them. Punctuated equilibrium is not the same as Darwinian evolution, which required the changes to occur over long periods of time. But the fundamental worldview remains the same; evtolution is not governed by any type of intelligent designer or Creator.
That is an example of a slight alteration to worldview, and it leads nicely to the third influence of worldview upon our interpretation of evidence and arguments: worldviews can only be defeated or replaced by strong or overwhelming evidence, powerfully persuasive arguments, or significant experiential data. Worldviews represent core assumptions about the world. Such beliefs are not easily altered—especially when they have been critically examined.

For example, let’s go back to Monk and the Astronaut, the episode where Monk suspects an astronaut of murdering a former call-girl who was writing an autobiography. Monk’s primary obstacle in solving that case was the little problem of the suspect’s alibi—he was in a spaceship orbiting the earth at the time of the woman’s death. Alibis really don’t come much more airtight than that! How does Monk deal with that alibi? Does he say, “Oh well, the guy’s got a pretty solid alibi—he must not be the guy”? No—rather, Monk says, “I don’t know how he did it, but he did it. He’s the guy.” It would take more than an apparently air-tight alibi to convince Monk to abandon his thesis. As it happens, Monk was right—he Monk eventually figures out how the astronaut set conditions up for the woman to die while he was in space. The point is that Monk was not dissuaded by pretty powerful evidence that contradicted his thesis.

As it is with crime, so it is with worldview. Worldviews, particularly if they are consciously held, are held tenaciously. A little bit of contrary evidence of argumentation doesn’t do much to challenge a deeply-held worldview. One of the best examples of this that I have come across involves John Dominic Crossan, a scholar with the Jesus Seminar in the 1980s. Crossan once engaged in a public debate with William Lane Craig, one of my favorite Christian scholars and apologists, about the resurrection of Jesus. During their dialogue time, there is a fascinating and very revealing exchange.

First, Craig asks Crossan: “What evidence would it take to convince you [that the resurrection really happened]? Or are your preconceived ideas about the impossibility of the miraculous and so forth so strong that, in fact, they skew your historical judgment so that such an event could never even be admitted into court?” Craig is asking Crossan, what type and amount of evidence would convince you that Jesus really was raised from the dead? Is your worldview so set against the very possibility of such things that you could not be convinced no matter how powerful the evidence? Crossan’s reply is revealing, and worth quoting:
“But it’s a theological presupposition of mine that God does not operate that way. … What would it take to prove to me what you ask? I don’t know, unless God changes the universe.” In other words, there is no type or amount of evidence that could convince Crossan of the literal truth of the resurrection of Jesus. It’s a theological presupposition of his that God would not do such things. It is a part of his worldview. He is absolutely closed to the possibility of Jesus’ resurrection, because it does not fit within his worldview. In order to accept the historicity of Christ’s resurrection, Crossan would have to alter his entire worldview, which holds that there is absolutely no possibility of life after death, and that God never involves Himself in the affairs of the world.

For many people, like Crossan, worldviews are very stubbornly held. Contrary evidence does not convince them to abandon their worldview and adopt a different one. Another way of putting this is to say that worldviews are inherently conservative. They are not changed except under extreme duress. Nonetheless, worldviews do sometimes change. This happens when many formerly Christian students abandon the faith in university—they convert from an unexamined, unconscious Christian worldview to an unexamined but conscious atheistic or agnostic worldview. On the other hand, C. S. Lewis was an atheist until well into his professional adulthood, when he converted to Christianity. In 2004, Antony Flew, Britain’s leading intellectual atheist for the past 50 years, abandoned the atheistic worldview which he had defended quite consciously and critically.

Biblically, the apostle Paul serves as a paradigm example of a worldview conversion. Paul affirms in Philippians 3:4-6 that he a zealous and convinced Jew. He persecuted the early Christian church because he perceived it as blasphemy against the God of Israel. It took an overwhelming personal encounter with the risen Christ, narrated in Acts 9:1-19, for Paul to see that Jesus was the Messiah promised in the Old Testament. He had heard the sermon of Stephen at his martyrdom in Acts 7, but was not swayed. Only a personal encounter with the living God enabled a worldview change and a conversion to Christ.

This is why it is vitally important to cultivate our biblical Christian worldview—to allow God’s Word to shape the way that we view the world and interpret that data and arguments that we come face-to-face with. The worldview that we hold influences the way we interpret the world around us. It takes less evidence to support an existing worldview; new data is interpreted to fit within an existing worldview; and it takes overwhelming evidence or arguments to overturn a consciously-held worldview. It is important that we as Christians consciously hold our Christian worldview, understanding what we believe, why we believe it, the logical and evidential support that confirms our faith. It is easier to share our faith with others if we know what we believe and why we believe it. It is difficult to share Christ with others if we’re not precisely sure what our Christian worldview is or why we hold it to be the truth. Our desire to share our faith with others requires that we know what we believe and why. But it also requires that we engage opposing worldviews.

Many non-Christians are consciously committed to an anti-Christian worldview. If we desire to reach them with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, then we need to expose the weaknesses and flaws in their worldview. For example, many non-Christians deny the existence of any transcendent Being; simultaneously, they promote vibrant moral standards which all people ought to embrace and follow. However, they cannot provide an adequate foundation for the moral standards they promote. This is a flaw which we can pursue to demonstrate why an atheistic worldview is lacking and needs to be replaced by a coherent, liveable (Christian) worldview.

Other non-Christians are unconsciously operating under a worldview which excludes the possibility of God. If we desire to reach them with the Gospel, then we need to highlight their core worldview assumptions. Often they will reject these assumptions when they are forced to admit them, because the unspoken assumptions are untenable. For example, many people today unthinkingly embrace moral relativism—the view that what is right for me could be wrong for you, and vice versa. When pursued, however, such folks will almost always admit that there are some things which are actually and fundamentally wrong—rape, child abuse, torture, cold-blooded murder. But their admission that there are some things that are objectively wrong undermines their professed acceptance of ethical relativism. When you uncover the weaknesses and flaws in others’ non-Christian worldviews, you can begin to bring down their opposition to the Christian faith. Looking back, that was instrumental in my own conversion. I had friends who were willing to challenge my atheistic worldview, and put the truth of Christianity forward for me to consider. Over time, it sunk in, and I became open to considering Christianity.

It is important that followers of Jesus are able to both cultivate a conscious Christian worldview and engage with the non-Christian worldviews of neighbors and friends. The Christian worldview acknowledges that there is something fundamentally wrong with the world. The world that God created perfectly good is marred as a result of mankind’s fall into rebellion and sin. We can be redeemed only through faith in the atoning death and glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ. If we hold to this worldview consistently and consciously, it will affect the way that we interpret the world around us. It is also essential to understand that the contrary worldviews that others hold affect the way that they see and interpret the world around them. It will also enable us to understand how others see the world differently, and thus must interpret We need to have a conscious, well-thought-out worldview, and be willing to challenge the worldview of our non-Christian friends. This is a part of both defending our faith, and of presenting the glorious truth of Jesus Christ to those who do not yet know Him. In Matthew 6:22, Jesus says: The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! Worldview exerts great influence upon how we perceive and understand the world. It is essential to ensure that your worldview is a lens, a matrix, which will enable you to see the world God’s way.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Book Review - Stark, For the Glory of God

Here is a brief summary and critique of Rodney Stark's intriguing historical work, 'For the Glory of God.' Enjoy!

Stark, Rodney. For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003. 488 pp.

Rodney Stark, a sociologist of religion with no eminent sympathy for the Christian faith, wants to set the record straight. World historians have, for the past two centuries, maligned and reviled the historic Christian Church for its perceived sins of the past. Stark insists that Christian monotheism has been an incredibly positive force, mobilizing millions of Europeans to achieve admirable goals (11). He deplores the efforts of historians “to dismiss the role of religion in producing ‘good’ things such as the rise of science or the end of slavery, and the corresponding efforts to blame religion for practically everything ‘bad.’” (12) For the Glory of God is his ‘humble’ attempt to provide a balanced account of Christian history—conveying the worthy accomplishments of the Church as well as noting its more sinister side. He pursues his goal by surveying four broad ‘events’—the Protestant Reformations (Chapter 2), the rise of modern science (Chapter 2), witch-hunts (Chapter 3), and the abolition of slavery (Chapter 4).

Chapter 1 – The Protestant Reformations

Stark begins by provocatively insisting that the Protestant Reformation launched by Luther’s 95 Theses in 1517 was not new. He defines reformations as “efforts to restore or renew standards of religious belief and practice to a more demanding level, within a religious organization.” (16) If such attempts are thwarted (as Luther’s ultimately was), the reformation turns outward and becomes a new sect. The need for reformations is the tendency of religious organizations to become lax and lower-intensity over time (17). Hence, reformations are a fairly constant presence within religious bodies. Stark briefly discusses early Christian reformation movements—the Marcionites (27-28), Montanus (28-29), the Donatists (36-37), and Arians (39). He argues that the latter two groups were repressed out of existence, an occurrence which is inherent to monotheism wherever it possesses the power to do so. Stark claims that “religious intolerance is inherent in monotheism,” because “those who believe there is only One True God are offended by worship directed toward other Gods.” (32)

Stark’s main concern throughout this chapter is to challenge popular myths concerning the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. First, he insists that medieval Europe was not a highly religious, consistently Christian entity, as most modern historians claim (17). On the one hand, the majority of the population of northern Europe (Germany, Scandinavia) was only nominally Christian, often combining belief in Christ with residual pagan beliefs and practices. On the other hand, the medieval Catholic Church was often perfectly content with that situation, so long as the coin continued to flow into its coffers (46). Second, he argues that reforming movements were not new in the sixteenth century, despite protestations to the contrary. Stark argues that the Catholic Church had long been divided between the governing Church of Power, and the energizing Church of Piety (40). The former ran the show, while the latter sought to bring greater religious vitality to the clergy and laity alike. Furthermore, there were numerous reforming movements both within and without the Catholic Church. Stark mentions numerous pre-12th century heretical movements (46-47), the Cathars (53-55), the Waldensians (56-57), Free Spirit heresies (58-59), the Flaggelants (60-61), Wyclif and the Lollards (64), and John Hus (65-67). The reforming movement ran deep and wide throughout the medieval Catholic Church. This leads Stark to debunk a third popular medieval myth—that the Catholic Church was peopled by fanatically religious monks, priests, and bishops who sought to instill oppressive religious requirements upon the lay population of Catholic Europe (17). Stark argues that, on the contrary, the priesthood of the Catholic Church was depressingly “immoral and indolent,” and that most sincerely religious Europeans were burdened by the rampant immorality and impiety of the Church.” (68) However, reform-minded popes were unable to achieve the results they sought.

The Protestant Reformation was not, in Stark’s opinion, a successful reformation. Rather than reforming the church from the inside, Luther ended up with a new sect altogether (79). His original goal was simple reform, particularly concerning the sale of indulgences (82). However, as Catholic opposition to his reforms intensified, and he was branded a heretic, Luther was radicalized, and proposed “a complete religious revolution.” (83-84) Luther’s reforms were not theologically innovative—indeed, most of them were represented in the Hussite movement in Bohemia (86-87) generations earlier. Why then did the Protestant Reformation succeed where earlier movements had not? First, Luther framed the religious doctrines in a clear, concise fashion: “salvation by faith alone . . . the priesthood of all believers.” (85) This summation allowed his views to be widely disseminated, a process greatly aided by the newly-invented printing press. Second, Protestants (especially Calvinists) were remarkably effective at sharing their new-found faith with friends, neighbors, and family (95-96). In this way, the spread of Calvinist Protestantism resembled the spread of early Christianity. Stark spends the most time, however, discussing three other factors which determined where Protestantism succeeded, and where it failed to make long-term inroads.

First, the degree of Protestant success was directly proportional to the degree of local Catholic weakness (104). Some newly-Protestant areas (e.g. Denmark, Scandinavia) had been more recently Christianized, and Stark rightly indicts the Church for being satisfied with surface conversion. Other newly-Protestant areas (e.g. southern France, Germanic principalities) were marked by long-standing hostility to agents of the Catholic Church. For example, southern France still retained strong memories of the extermination of the Cathars, and there were still Waldensian communities who had been (and were being) repressed by Catholic France (105-07). Both of these factors led to “local Catholic weakness,” and enabled Protestant success.

Second, “other things being equal, to the extent that local governments responded to popular preferences, they turned Protestant.” (108) Protestantism was a popular movement, and if the government was responsive to popular demands, it was more likely to turn Protestant. Third, “some regimes had much to gain in terms of wealth and power from turning Protestant, while some regimes had far less to gain, having already minimized Church authority and exactions.” (105) German princes, like the Danish and Swedish kings, had both wealth and power threatened by the position of the Catholic Church, giving them strong incentive to embrace Protestantism (114). Spain and France, meanwhile, already exerted strong control over the Church, including its offices and finances, and had little incentive to turn Protestant (112-13).

Chapter 2 – The Religious Origins of Science

Most schoolchildren today are taught that modern science was the result of an “Enlightenment” in which the shackles of religious superstition were thrown off by courageous skeptics. The Christian Church fought the advance of scientific knowledge tooth and nail, but eventually the power of the truth won out, and Christianity receded while science pushed on. Stark refreshes the tableau and sets the record straight. His thesis in this chapter is fairly simple: “not only that there is no inherent conflict between religion and science, but that Christian theology was essential for the rise of science.” (123) Pursuing this thesis requires the debunking of another set of powerful public myths.

First, Stark refutes the ‘Columbus myth,’ which teaches that Columbus had to fight against an oppressive Church which believed that the world was flat, not round. This myth, like so many others, originated in Andrew White’s magisterial work of deception, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (122). All of Columbus’ contemporaries, including the learned Christian Scholastics, believed that the world was round—their dispute with Columbus was over the circumference of the earth. [Incidentally, on that score Columbus’ opponents were correct; Columbus was fortunate that there was a Western Hemisphere—otherwise he would not have lived to tell his tale!] However, the myth presented by White is a necessary part of the militant atheistic Enlightenment tale—hence its enduring power.
Second, Stark refutes the myth of the “Dark Ages,” presenting medieval Europe as a hotbed of technical innovation (130-33) and Scholastic learning (134-43). Proponents of the Enlightenment require a ‘Dark Ages’ to contrast their own views; but the proposed perspective of medieval Europe is simply mythical. Stark notes that medieval Europe not only created technical innovations of their own, but rapidly implemented innovations derived elsewhere (133-34). Meanwhile, the universities, founded and endowed by the Church, promoted scientific learning and theorizing.

Third, Stark refutes the myth that the advance of science required the discarding of Christian theism. Rather, science required a Christian foundation on which to build. “Christianity depicted God as a rational, responsive, dependable, and omnipotent being and the universe as his personal creation, thus having a rational, lawful, stable structure, awaiting human comprehension.” (147) Christian theology presented a positive framework in which scientific hypotheses could be tested with confidence. Stark notes that neither China (149-52), Greece (153-54), nor Islam (154-55) contained sufficient theoretical and theological boundaries for modern science. Christian doctrine alone provided the key: nature is because it has a transcendent Creator; God’s laws govern natural regularities; knowing nature enables deeper comprehension of God (157). Further supporting Stark’s thesis, an examination of the most prominent scientists in the 16th and 17th centuries uncovers a remarkable degree of pious, devout Christian faith (162-63).

Fourth, Stark builds upon earlier arguments and rejects the mythical “Enlightenment.” (166) Just as the hypothesized ‘Dark Ages’ were non-existent, so too was the ‘Enlightenment.’ On the one hand, the Greek classics did not have to be rediscovered—they were already known, discussed, and generally rejected by Scholastics throughout the universities of Europe (156). On the other hand, the emergence of science was built upon the earlier insights of medieval Scholastics (166). Even in the 18th and 19th centuries, Christian theologians and scientists were mutually willing to adopt and acknowledge one another’s insights (176). Christians were active in natural theology (173) and astronomy (173-74), and eagerly sought to unite science and theology (174).

Fifth, Stark refutes the myth that evolution is a battle between science and religion. Rather, it is “an attack on religion by militant atheists who wrap themselves in the mantle of science in an effort to refute all religious claims concerning a Creator—an effort that has also often attempted to suppress all scientific criticism of Darwin’s work.” (176) There is no inherent contradiction between Darwin’s theory itself and Christian theism—Stark demonstrates that numerous Christians had adopted some type of natural selection and intra-species deviation through evolutionary means long before Darwin published Origin of Species (176-77). But Darwin’s theory is marred by numerous difficulties, improbabilities, and unproven assertions (178-83). Nonetheless, atheists seized upon Darwin’s theory as the best one yet put forward, and presented it as categorically disproving the existence of the Christian God (185). In belated response to continual harsh rhetoric, many Christians eventually adopted a defensive stance and rejected Darwinian evolution wholesale (187). Christians were not being asked to accept the simple scientific hypothesis that life had evolved; rather, they were ‘required’ to “agree to the untrue and unscientific claim that Darwin had proved that God played no role in the process.” (187)

Finally, Stark disputes the argument that scientists have become increasingly hostile to religion. He presents surveys from throughout the 20th century demonstrating both that belief in God is surprisingly robust amongst natural scientists and that such belief has not altered over the past century (193-94). Despite the hopes and claims of militant skeptics, theism continues unabated.

Chapter 3 – Witch-Hunts

The tragedy of witch-hunting in late medieval Europe is a tremendously misunderstood phemonenon. First, it is often asserted that millions of people, particularly women, were executed during the persecutions. The truth, Stark insists, is that only 60,000 – 100,000 people were executed, one-third of whom (at least) were men (202-04). Second, modern historians generally attribute the extent and brutality of the witch-hunts to the fanatically religious Inquisitors. The truth, however, is that ecclesiastical authorities were much more hesitant to prosecuted accused witches than were secular courts, and that punishments handed out by Inquisitors tended to be considerably lighter (204). Third, today’s students are taught that the witch-hunts were ended by the triumph of secular rationalism. The truth, Stark argues, is that no atheistic voices were raised in protest against witchcraft until after the witch-hunts had ceased—the witch-hunts were stopped by other factors (286-87). Stark endeavors to set the record straight, proposing a model for causes of the witch-hunts, as well as factors in their cessation.

To set the necessary framework, Stark begins with a brief discussion of magic (205), sorcery (205-06), and Satanism (206-07). Only the latter could result in charges of witchcraft and the associated death penalty—and such charges could only arise in monotheistic cultures (206). Stark then debunks eight common assertions of why the witch-hunts occurred (208-23). A brief discussion of magic in the Greco-Roman world establishes that when the Christian Church “came to power, magic was everywhere. Virtually everyone believed in it.” (226) The later rejection of witchcraft was not a return to the golden age of Greek rationalism; rather, it was something entirely new. Throughout the Middle Ages, the Church struggled with the reality that all types of magic—Church and non-Church alike—sometimes succeeded and sometimes failed (230). Church authorities acknowledged that pagan magic sometimes worked, and struggled to understand how this could be so (236). Eventually, Scholastics deduced the only logical, rational conclusion: non-Church magic worked through the power of evil spirits, particularly Satan (237). “There was no place in their worldview for causation that was neither natural nor fully supernatural. … Thus did logic and reason lead the best minds of the time into catastrophic error.” (238) Stark is remarkably lenient toward the Scholastic authorities who concluded that non-authorized incantations, potions, and spells necessarily relied upon satanic power!
Stark then builds a theoretical model to account for the rise, occurrence, prevalence, and intensity of witch-hunts in various geographic locations. He posits three key factors to account for “when and where” witch-hunts occurred (245). Each factor is necessary but not sufficient—only the combination of all three factors was sufficient for witch-hunts to occur (254). The first factor is the continuing practice and efficacy of magic (246). The second factor is the presence of “intense and constant religious conflicts.” (246) Stark notes that the time of the most intense witch-hunts, 1590-1640, also marks the height of the Catholic-Protestant wars, as well as severe incursions of Ottoman Turks in Europe (246-50). The third factor is the lack of strong, centralized political or ecclesiastical authority (251). Local officials easily got carried away by witch crazes; central authorities, where able, continually reigned them in (251-54). In times and places where magic was effectively practiced (particularly parts of Europe that had never been effectively and thoroughly Christianized), religious conflicts were prevalent, and central authorities were weak or non-existent, witch-hunts took strongest form and shape.

Case studies bear out Stark’s hypothesis. Spain, France (except the “borderlands”), Italy, and England were generally devoid of intense witch-hunts (256-62). The lowlands of Germany, as well as the Scandinavian countries, were marred by severe and intense persecutions and executions of accused witches (263-73).
Stark then proposes four factors which contributed to the cessation of the witch-hunts. Notably, the rise of skeptical Enlightenment materialism is entirely and consciously absent from his list (277). First, witch-hunts could easily target and eliminate marginal members of society; but once those “socially inexpensive” members of society were executed, the costs of witch-hunts rose to “unsustainable levels.” (279) Arresting and prosecuting acknowledged outcasts and misfits was easy; when prominent members of society were implicated by new accusers, witch-hunts became in-credible and unsustainable (278-79). Second, the establishment of religious peace through the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 removed ongoing warfare as a contributing factor in witch-hunts. “Just as the outbreak of severe religious conflicts brought on the search for witches, the end of the religious wars and the implementation of treaties of toleration brought it to an end. In nation after nation, witch-hunting collapsed after the Peace of Westphalia.” (282) Third, the strengthening of central political authorities following 1648 placed stricter guidelines of prosecutions of accused witches (282). Finally, increasing skepticism concerning the existence and practice of witches led to the demise of witch-hunts (283). However, this skepticism did not arise from atheists who disbelieved in magic. Rather, Scholastics and Inquisitors led the charge against the accuracy of accusations of witch-craft (283-86). Well-trained and deeply committed Christians, “responding to the evidence of their sense,” brought the witch-hunts to an end (287).

Chapter 4 – Slavery

The typical school textbook of Western history presents slavery (explicitly or implicitly) as a novel invention of colonial Christian Europe, and insists that the abolition of slavery was achieved not by moral suasion but by Enlightenment humanism (291-92). Sadly, though happily from a Christian perspective, this widespread myth is entirely fictional. In this final chapter, Stark sets out to tell the story of slavery the way it really happened.

First, slavery has been an institution in human cultures since before the Egyptian pyramids, and has permeated every area of the globe. North American Indians, those ‘noble savages’ of Western romantic imagination, engaged in intense slavery (293-95). Greece and Rome, so admired as the ‘classical civilizations’ by Renaissance and Enlightenment secularists, were built on the backs of slaves (295-99). Slavery was institutional in Islamdom (301-03), partly based upon the personal example of the Prophet Muhammad, who owned, captured, and traded slaves himself (338). Enslavement of Africans was not initiated by Christian colonialists, but had long standing between African tribes themselves (304), and was furthered by Muslim incursions. In fact, Christian European nations relied on long-established African slave runners for their continual supply of slaves (307). However, when European nations founded colonies in the ‘New World,’ they captured and utilized slaves as a primary labor force (309-23).

Second, while European nations did delve into widespread slavery, the Church was hardly complicit in the practice. On the contrary, Christian theology had outlawed slavery since early in the Middle Ages (291). Thomas Aquinas could speak of slavery as a quaint and obsolete institution, no longer practiced by Christian Europe (329). While the occasional pope (e.g. Innocent VIII) ignored canon law and possessed slaves, such violators were generally guilty of ignoring the rest of canon and biblical law as well (330). The papacy in general condemned slavery, and considered an excommunicable offense (331). As Stark proclaims, “The problem wasn’t that the Church failed to condemn slavery; it was that few heard and most of them did not listen.” (332) There were indeed some clergy who sent (or lived out) mixed messages; but they were exceptions to the rule (337).

Third, monotheism alone possessed the moral suasion to condemn and outlaw the institution of slavery. Stark makes a fascinating side foray into the issue of morality and religious theology, arguing that monotheism alone is capable of promulgating a strong, binding, effectual system of morality. Plural gods do not have the authority; impersonal gods cannot sustain the notion of ‘sin’ at all; philosophy on its own conveys no moral weight (324-25). Only monotheism can provide a concerned, personal, omniscient, omnipotent God who enacts moral laws and expects conformation (325). Some Jewish sects developed abolition movements (328-29), and Christianity in general was directly opposed to slavery from the outset.

Stark develops this last thesis as the fourth pillar of this chapter. He proposes the thesis that abolitionist movements arose when three factors coincided. In the first place, anti-slavery movements required an appropriate moral disposition (339). This was provided by Christian sects—particularly Quakers and Methodists in America, and Methodists, Quakers, and the Clapham sect in Britain (340-41, 349-51). In the second place, anti-slavery movements could only arise when they were proximate to the practice of slavery itself. Thus, abolition movements were strong in the northern States, which though they did not practice slavery themselves, were intimately familiar with the plight of slaves in the South (not to mention Caribbean colonies). (347) In the third place, the proximity and moral persuasion of anti-slavery movements needed to be distant from any perception of self-interest (339). Stark develops this thesis quite persuasively, but the key assertion he is making, which runs contrary to the trends of modern historians for the past two hundred years, is that it is Christian moral persuasion which was responsible for the abolition of slavery (353, 365).

Fifth, and finally, Stark refutes the widespread belief that Enlightenment secularism (rather than Christian conscience) was responsible for abolition. Having already established that Christian ethics were a necessary element of anti-slavery movements, Stark proceeds to debunk the first part of the equation. He presents a list of prominent Enlightenment thinkers—Hobbes, Locke, Voltaire, Montesquieu, Burke, and Hume—who “fully accepted slaver.” (359) Indeed, it was very much not the philosophical intellectuals “who assembled the moral indictment of slavery, but the very people they held in such contempt: men and women having intense Christian faith, who opposed slavery because it was a sin.” (360)

Postscript – Gods, Rituals, and Social Science

Stark closes with a fascinating postscript in which he debunks the sociological axiom (based upon Durkheim’s theses) that religion is fundamentally about ritual, not belief in supernatural Gods (367-68). Stark shows that, to the contrary, “Gods are the fundamental feature of religions.” (376) Furthermore, not all religions can underwrite a moral order (373); but rather only “images of Gods as conscious, morally concerned beings.” (374) Hence, Christianity possessed the moral resources to oppose slavery, where secular rationalism, polytheism, and impersonal religions did not.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Worldview Comprehensive Exam - Question 3

NOTE: This is the final one of my comprehensive exam responses. Like the rest, it is unedited, was written in 80 minutes with no resources at hand. I placed this one last because, along with the first one, it serves as a framework for my own understanding of apologetics and my personal apologetic strategy. I hope you enjoy it, and as always, comments are welcome.

Question #3. Discuss and defend against major objections your view of the role of using evidences and presuppositions in apologetics.

My fundamental approach to apologetics, what I will ‘discuss and defend,’ is an “integrative classical apologetic” approach, illustrated most powerfully in the ministry of William Lane Craig ( I will defend an approach that begins with rational argumentation and demonstration of the probable truth of Christianity.

Apologetics rightfully begins as a personal encounter with another person. There are, of course, impersonal apologetic encounters – over the internet, through written works, etc. – but each of them presume a personal encounter at least on the intellectual sphere. More frequently, our apologetic encounters are truly personal – engagement with another person, a skeptic, seeker, or doubter on a personal, one-to-one (or small group) level.

As such, apologetics must recognize certain truths about the person we are engaging. First, they, like us, are created in the image of God. They are endowed with reason and intellect. They contain within themselves an inherent desire to know and worship God. They are endowed with the freedom to choose, the ability to make real, meaningful choices between good and evil.

Second, they are, like us, radically fallen. The fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden has consequences for all their offspring, which includes every human being. The fall has affected not only their relationship with God (which is irreparably broken), but also their religious and intellectual capacities. Thus, whereas pre-Fall our religious desire was oriented toward God, post-Fall our religious desire is opposed to God.

However, third, the results of the Fall do not result in a total and complete lack of common ground between believer and unbeliever. Christians and non-Christians share a great deal in common, and the common ground establishes the possibility of dialogue and discussion. In personal encounters, however, we will often have to identify the common ground that exists between us and our friend. It will not always be the same!

A. Awakening Religious Desire

A next step in apologetic encounters is awakening religious desire within our partner. Why ought they even to listen to appeals to consider Christianity? I am convinced that within our culture, people are spiritually hungry, but often do not even realize it. Thus, I begin with an account of my own religious experience of growing up a convinced, but empty atheist. The worldview without Christ, particularly the naturalistic modern worldview, is an empty, hopeless, meaningless, purposeless existence. I experienced it, and I felt its powerful nihilism.

However, most contemporary functional atheists do not consistently think through the consequences of their worldview. They see life without God, but seek to retain meaning and purpose within it. Like Loyal Rue, they embrace (or proclaim) a “Noble Lie,” something to retain a semblance of purpose even though it’s a myth. Or, like Richard Dawkins, they seek to proclaim that, despite the fundamental meaningless of life, we can construct something meaningful out of it. Or, like Camus and Sartre, they insist that we must simply act and existentially make life meaningful. But thinking it through, the naturalist must end in a Nietzschean nihilism. If there is no God, there is no eternal life, there is no ultimate purpose in life, there is no meaning in life. There is no hope. There is only bleak, hopeless, infinite darkness in the universe of man. What is man, in the absence of God? An insignificant and doomed member of an insignificant and doomed race on an insignificant and doomed planet within the immense scope of a boundless universe (which itself may then be but an insignificant and doomed member of an infinite multiverse).

But God has created us such that we are existentially incapable of living within that framework. Man matters, and we all know it. We all live that way, even if our worldview denies it. Thus, the Christian apologist will seek to uncover the presuppositions of the one he is engaging, demonstrating the logical end of their worldview. If they embrace a thorough materialistic naturalism, they end up with no purpose, no meaning, no life after death. Nothing of substance or hope. But they cannot live that way. Schaeffer calls this taking the roof off – removing the hedge of protection that people seek to erect to insulate them from the logical extensions of their worldview. Alternatively, he calls it identifying the point of tension within their worldview. Van Til calls it showing the irrationalism and unliveability of the non-Christian worldview. Each way of putting it is correct. Essentially, the apologist must uncover and explain the full nature and scope and consequence of the worldview presuppositions that our friends have and hold. While on its own, this seems (according to Schaeffer) a cruel and cold act, it is actually an act of self-giving love – bringing the other person to the point where they recognize the emptiness of their own worldview, and may consequently be open to considering the truth of the Christian worldview.

B. The Place of Evidences and Proofs

Having (hopefully) brought our apologetic referent to a place where they are willing to consider the faith that is within us, we can turn to demonstrating the truth of the Christian faith on the basis of theistic proofs and evidences.

For the modern naturalist, mere consideration of the existence of God may be a difficult intellectual step. Thus, utilizing the theistic proofs is helpful in showing the rationality of belief in basic theism. That is, before considering Christianity per se, it is often necessary to help people see the probability of the existence of God. Of these, the cosmological, moral, and experiential are the ones that I consider to be the most powerful and persuasive.

The cosmological argument for the existence of God stems from a basic argument: (P1) Everything that begins to exist has an external cause; (P2) The universe began to exist; (Conclusion) Therefore the universe has an external cause. The first premise has been historically unquestioned. It is self-evident that things which begin to exist have a cause outside of themselves. Some insist that contemporary quantum mechanics call this premise into question; however, the products of quantum vacuums are not the result of something coming from nothing. Rather, quantum vacuums themselves contain a rich structural environment which permits the production of quantum particles. The self-evident truth is that nothing comes from nothing, and nothing ever has or will.

The second premise has historically been rejected. Greeks and modernists alike posited the eternality of the universe in a steady state. If the universe had always existed, it did not have a beginning point as such; therefore, there is no need to posit and external cause (creator) for it. On logical grounds, medieval Islamic and Christian theologians argued that there could not be a literal infinite past to the universe – that it was logically incoherent. Examples like Hilbert’s Hotel help to illustrate the difficulties inherent within an actual infinite series.

However, it was not until the rise of Big Bang cosmology in the 20th century that Christian apologists came to take hold of the cosmological argument as a primary proof for the existence of God. Big Bang theory (derisively named by Hoyle) points to a singularity in the past, a point at which the density of the universe was infinitely high, and the space it occupied infinitesimally small, such that all known laws of physics break down at that point. The evidence provided by red shift, cosmic background radiation demonstrate that there is a beginning to the universe – a point at which the space-time continuum begins, exploding into existence out of, literally, nothing. The point is, the scientific evidence demonstrates that there is a beginning to the universe, or that, according to the second premise, “the universe began to exist.”

Granted, some physicists and astronomers seek to avoid the implications of Big Bang theory by positing an oscillating universe, or a Hawking-type imaginary time/no boundary condition; but these are attempts to avoid the obvious implications of what seems self-evident in Big Bang theory – the universe had a beginning, and therefore requires an external cause to bring it into existence.

The moral argument for God’s existence works from the innate moral consciousness of mankind, combined with our acknowledgment of our own failure to live up to our own moral standards, and argues that there must be an external law-maker who gives the moral law. C. S. Lewis nicely summarize the moral argument in his Mere Christianity; Timothy Keller explains it succinctly for a 21st-century audience in his Reasons for God. Man cannot live amorally. We all acknowledge the existence of a moral code. Yet the moral code cannot originate within ourselves (individually) or our society (as a collective), because in either case, the source of the moral code would be insufficient to ground a truly objective morality.

However, we all acknowledge not a particularistic morality, but rather a transcendent morality that applies to all people at all times, whether they like it or not and whether they admit it or not. Hence, Lewis famously argues that morality must be transcendent, otherwise there would be no point in having fought the Nazis. If Nazi morality was simply different than British, then why send all those Brits to France or Holland to die trying to eradicate Nazi morality? If the Holocaust was simply the expression of a different social contract, why react so viscerally and violently against it? Again, our inherent and innate crying out against the injustice and horrors of events like the Holocaust are evidence of a transcendent moral code which we expect all human beings in all times at all places to live up to.
Such a moral code cannot find a suitable foundation in either sociobiology or social contract theory – the two major alternatives to theistic ethics. If morality depends upon us, then it may change tomorrow. The Holocaust might be right tomorrow. Rape might be right tomorrow. Self-sacrificial love could be wrong tomorrow. Or, when we achieve our next “evolutionary step,” morality could change. Thus, perhaps the Nazis were more highly evolved than the rest of us, and we all wiped out the next manifestation of human evolution in World War II. Yet this approach is simply implausible and unliveable. That is not the way we approach ethics. The only sufficient grounding for objective morality is a transcendent moral source – something outside of human morality which grounds our ethics; namely, God.

The argument from religious experience is twofold. First, it points to the religious experience of billions of people throughout the ages, stating that the vast majority of human beings have been incurably religious. All those billions of spiritual human beings could not be wrong; but a naturalistic worldview requires them all to be wrong if there is no God. Second, it points to the unquenchable religious desires that exist within all of us – the drive to know and worship the divine, and the yearning for eternal life. Both these desires are evident from the dawn of human civilization; all human societies have had religious expression and the desire for eternal life. Again, if all there is is stuff, this is incomprehensible.

Critics of such classical / evidential apologetics will argue two things: (1) the cosmological (and moral and experiential) argument is not conclusive or certain; and (2) the cosmological argument does not establish Christianity itself, only a bare theism, or even deism. On both counts, they are right. However, their criticism is simply irrelevant, for the argument is not intended to be or do either. Theistic arguments and proofs are used when someone is open to the possibility of theism. Alternatively, they are useful when someone insists that it is irrational, stupid, or otherwise irresponsible to believe in the existence of God. In the first case, theistic proofs give people strong, persuasive (though admittedly not iron-clad) reasons that they ought to believe God exists. In the second case, theistic proofs show skeptics that there are rational demonstrations of our faith, that we are well within our epistemic rights in assenting to such proofs as the cosmological argument as rational support for our Christian faith.

In reply to the second criticism, I must again admit that they are absolutely correct. But the theistic proofs do not exist in a vacuum either. We use them as a tool in our toolbox; one part of a personal apologetic which is intended to also consider evidences related explicitly to the truth of the Christian faith. If we use the cosmological argument in isolation from everything else, then yes, the criticism is valid and telling. However, since we do not, but rather move on from such theistic proofs to consider the reliability of Scripture and the proofs of the resurrection of Jesus, the objection is muted.

The theistic arguments for theism can be helpfully supplemented by two things: (1) a response to the problem of evil (a defense or theodicy); and (2) a philosophical case for the possibility of miracles. Both are helpful, but are beyond the scope of this essay (and particularly the time I have remaining!).

Supplementing the theistic proofs and rational arguments, my apologetic approach moves on to consider specific evidences for the truth of Christianity. First, the defense of biblical reliability (outlined in answer to Question #2 above) is essential. Christianity is founded upon the inerrancy, inspiration, and authority of Scripture. Thus, we must be able to point to the reliability of Scripture as the source of our faith.

Of course, at this point, Van Til or some comparable presuppositional apologist will turn red in the face. “How can you argue FOR the reliability of Scripture?!?!?! You must begin with the authority of Scripture! It is not a conclusion of apologetic argument, but rather the beginning point.” However, a presuppositional apologist will need to make an argument for adopting Scripture as the starting point for apologetics himself. And on what basis do they do so? Often they insist (as does Van Til) that nothing makes sense unless we do accept Scripture as the starting point. That is, all other starting points for human thought and discourse end up providing insufficient basis for rationality. But why should this matter? Why is reason important? The presuppositionalist is simply acknowledging what the classical apologist uses as an essential starting point – we have to acknowledge the legitimacy of human reason in order to have an apologetic conversation at all! The presuppositionalist is concerned about elevating human reason to autonomous magisterial status – a legitimate concern, but not a flaw that the classical apologist is committed to falling into. I just think it is ironic that presuppositional apologetics object to the classicist’s use of reason, when their only method of establishing the sufficiency of Scripture as an apologetic starting point is, itself, reason.

Nonetheless, there is some merit in the presuppositionalist’s concern that we argue for, rather than from, the reliability (inerrancy, inspiration, and authority) of Scripture. However, their criticism misses some of the existential point of modern apologetics. The impact of higher biblical criticism over the past 300 years has been devastating, both within and without the church. The vast majority of non-Christians are avowedly convinced that the Bible is an unreliable, mythical, figment of early Christians’ imaginations. Many even within the church (Strauss, Reimarus, Schleiermacher, Crossan all think they are saving the church, not destroying the faith) have bought into the unreliability of Scripture. To approach the average nominal Christian or convinced non-Christian (e.g., the Muslim who thinks Scripture to be corrupted) and simply say they should believe this because the Bible says it is so, is insufficient to begin with. That is, we cannot legitimately use Scripture as our starting point, when the person we are conversing with disavows the reliability of Scripture. They simply will not listen to us. If that is our goal, then perhaps we can go ahead and speak to ears that are unhearing. But that is not the apologetic method we observe in the New Testament. Yes, Paul frequently gets frustrated with the Jews in the synagogue when they refuse to listen, refuse to repent, continue stridently in their opposition to the Gospel. But he continually begins with where people are at, and seeks to bring them to a rational acknowledgment of the truth of the Gospel. When evangelizing Jews (giving them the reason for the hope he has), he uses Scripture liberally and continually; when evangelizing Gentiles (giving them the reason for the hope he has), he does not refer to Scripture near so frequently, indeed often beginning with their own poets or religious expressions (e.g. Acts 17).

In short, before many of our contemporary skeptics and seekers will listen to what the Bible has to say, they need to be convinced of why they should listen to what the Bible has to say. Why is it trustworthy? How historically reliable is it? Once we have demonstrated that, we have removed rational obstacles to them considering the claims that the Gospel makes upon them.

From the argument for biblical reliability, it is essential to move on to two fundamental points: (1) the self-understanding of Jesus Christ; and (2) the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Again, both elements are crucial, but time prevents me from deep consideration of them herein.

The self-understanding of Christ is examined in order to demonstrate who Jesus thinks He is. The need is to show that Jesus cannot be considered just a prophet, just a teacher, or a wandering cynic (Crossan), or an eschatological prophet (Schweitzer), but rather that Jesus presents Himself as being God in the flesh. This is established on the basis of the titles used by Jesus to refer to Himself: (a) Son of Man (the divine figure of Daniel 7:13-14); (b) Messiah; and (c) Son of God (in unique intimate fellowship with God the Father in most un-Jewish fashion). It is further confirmed by Jesus’ actions, which assumed divine prerogatives: (a) forgiveness of the sins of others (e.g. Mark 2:1-12); (b) teaching with authority reserved for God (e.g. Matthew 5-7), even correcting rabbinic misunderstanding of Torah; (c) healing without regard for temple procedure or sacrifice; (d) claiming to determine men’s eternal destiny. The claims made through Jesus’ words and works is what ultimately gets Him crucified. The sissy Jesus of the Jesus Seminar and other liberal scholarship simply isn’t radical enough to bother with! Furthermore, the self-understanding of Jesus is confirmed through the understanding of the first generations of Christians, who immediately began to worship Jesus as equal to Yahweh (in most un-Jewish fashion). Why?

Because of the resurrection of Jesus on the third day after His crucifixion. The resurrection is unquestionably the pivotal historical event in the Christian faith, and (from a Christian perspective) in all of human history. Jesus Christ is crucified, but on the third day, so the Christian claims, was raised from the dead, and 40 days later ascended into heaven. The resurrection precipitates a radical change in the worldview of the 1st-century Jewish disciples of Jesus. They begin to worship Jesus as God; they begin worshiping not only on the Sabbath day (the seventh day of the week), but also on the Lord’s Day (the first day of the week); they no longer consider the temple the pre-eminent focal point of worship and faith.

The culmination of Christian apologetics, then, is pointing to the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Thus, Craig concludes his Reasonable Faith with a lengthy chapter on the truth of the resurrection; thus, I conclude apologetic arguments and series with the resurrection as well. If Jesus is raised from the dead, this is the crowning confirmation of the truth of Christianity. However, the resurrection is also highly doubted today, again, even within the Christian Church. In our generation, the scholarship and public appearances of John Dominic Crossan have been powerful in persuading many that the resurrection is a ‘metaphor,’ speaking of the continuing empowering presence of Jesus with his disciples community, rather than a literal concrete historical fact in space and time. The metaphor of resurrection is, in my view, the dominant understanding of the resurrection in Canada today, including in most segments of the Christian Church.

Thus, pointing to a historical argument in support of the historicity of the resurrection is crucial. Certain historical facts are crucial in making this argument.

(1) The crucifixion and death of Jesus. Not really doubted by anyone outside of Muslim circles. Nonetheless, it is good to be able to point to Gospel and secular sources which confirm that Jesus died by crucifixion.

(2) The burial of Jesus by Joseph of Arimathea. Crossan disputes the burial, arguing that Mark invents Joseph and the other gospel-writers extrapolate from Mark’s invention. However, there is literally no documentary evidence in support of Crossan’s thesis, and no good reason to dispute the burial story.

(3) The discovery of the empty tomb by women on Easter Sunday. This is most frequently doubted, sometimes through a surface reading of 1 Corinthians 15:4, which does not explicitly mention the discovery of an empty tomb. However, as that passage goes on to discuss the appearances of the risen, physical, Jesus to many witnesses, the empty tomb is clearly presumed.

(4) The appearance of Jesus to many, including the skeptic James and the opponent Paul and a large group of about 500 people. The appearances demonstrate that the resurrection was not a hallucination (hallucinations don’t happen to large groups at the same time). The conversion of James demonstrates that Jesus appeared not only to friends, but also to doubters. And Paul’s conversion is instrumental.

(5) The transformation of the disciples, from fearful cowards into bold proclaimers.

(6) The early preaching of the resurrection in Jerusalem, the very place where the crucifixion occurred. It is striking that there is absolutely no historical record of anyone denying the existence of the empty tomb, despite the early preaching of the resurrection in Jerusalem.

N. T. Wright concludes (rightly) that the birth and growth of the Christian Church in the first century is entirely inexplicable unless Jesus Christ truly was raised from the dead. He is correct. However, it is a fact that many people, despite knowing the arguments and acknowledging the evidence, deny the conclusion. Why?

This is where presuppositions come into play. After examining the theistic proofs and considering the evidences for the truth of the Christian faith, if our conversation partner does not acknowledge the truth of Christianity, it is necessary to consider the impact of their worldview presuppositions. Van Til and other presuppositionalists rightly emphasize the role of worldview in preventing people from being able to consider and embrace the truth of Christianity. Once we work through our apologetic, and demonstrate that Christianity is fully rational and embraceable, we can turn and show someone the reasons why they personally find it difficult or impossible to accept it. Here, the presuppositional insight into the noetic effects of sin, and man’s desire to be autonomous, is helpful and essential.
Thus, in a well-rounded, comprehensive apologetic strategy, it is essential to emphasize the use of reason and evidences. However, it will also become necessary to consider presuppositions, and expose the faulty presuppositions of people who will not accept the evidence for the faith.