Posts Tagged ‘Apologetics’

Christ on Campus Initiative

Every once in a while I add a new link to the sidebar, but rarely post anything about it.  But I thought today I’d recommend a good resource, particularly geared toward those involved in university ministries.  I have actually known about it for a while, but I was reminded of it yesterday. 

It’s called the Christ on Campus Initiative.  Here is what their “About” page states:

The Christ on Campus Initiative (CCI) is a ministry of the Henry Center created for the purpose of preparing and circulating literature for college and university students, addressing an array of important intellectual and practical issues from an evangelical Christian perspective. The editorial team, led by D.A. Carson, commissions top evangelical scholars to oversee the creation and distribution of a variety of resources for university students. The goal of these resources is that they be intellectually rigorous, culturally relevant, persuasive in argument and faithful to historic, evangelical Christianity.

As for individual articles currently posted (I assume they’ll add more over time), there are a handful that stand out to me.  This doesn’t mean the others aren’t as good (I haven’t read them all), but I’m not as interested in human sexuality as some might be.  Here are links to the HTML version of the articles, you can always download the pdf files.

Cornelius Plantinga Jr- Sin: Not the Way It’s Supposed To Be (I’ve read his book by this same name, it’s outstanding)

William Lane Craig- Five Arguments for God

Graham Cole- Do Christians Have a Worldview?

Harold Netland- One Lord and Savior Over All? Jesus Christ and Religious Diversity

Craig Blomberg- Jesus of Nazareth: How Historians Can Know Him and Why It Matters

Anyway, check it out when you get a chance and let me know what you think.  I’m grateful that more and more evangelical scholars are willing to make their work available for free for the use of the church.

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Final thanks again to Connie at Crossway Books for this review copy.  Introductory comments here, part 1 here, and part 2 here.

For this final portion of my review of William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith, I will tackle Craig’s last major sections, De Creatione and De Christo.  The former section addresses the problem of historical knowledge and miracles.  The latter, the self-understanding and resurrection of Christ.

Craig opens De Creatione with a quote from George Ladd, “The uniqueness and the scandal of the Christian religion rest in the mediation of revelation through historical events” (p.207).  Indeed, anybody who has ever tried to share about the life of Jesus will be confronted with the problem of historical knowledge.  Can we be certain about anything in the past?  With popular books like The Da Vinci Code claiming (to general head-nodding) that “history is written by the winners,” how can we trust the historical accounts of Christ’s life?

Craig addresses this problem by following his standard formula, and taking a frank assessment of historiography.  The bulk of his writing is aimed at debunking the notion of historical relativism, that is, the notion that history cannot be objectively written, nor can historical facts be objectively known.  Historical meaning, postmoderns will say, is determined by the interpreter.  Craig deconstructs such ridiculous and impractical notions with his trademark attention to detail, and candid humor (e.g., “No one employs the postmodern hermeneutics in reading the instructions on a medicine bottle” (p.229)).  Craig’s treatment on the problem of miracles is similarly thorough.  Though he admits little practical evangelistic value for this material (p.278), he notes that it is often important because of the naturalistic tendencies of skeptics today.  Indeed, he notes, if one begins to consider Jesus presupposing naturalism, the reconstructed Jesus will not be “based on evidence, but on definition” (p.279).

De Christo serves as a strong finish to an already strong book.  Craig begins by examining the quests for the “historical Jesus,” which he divides into three phases.  His opening assessments of these quests is the first of many strong rebuttals to the fallacies therein:

Who did Jesus think that he was?  In asking such a question, I take for granted that we want to know what Jesus thought about himself.  The primary object of the quest of the historical Jesus is Jesus himself, not some abstraction manufactured by the historian (p.296).

So much for historie, geschichte, “the historical Jesus,” “the real Jesus,” “the total reality of Jesus,” etc.  Craig (rightly, in my opinion) keeps his focus on what we can know about Jesus, and there is no better place to start than to consider what He thought of Himself.  By the end of the chapter, Craig has laid out a very clear case that Jesus claimed to be everything orthodox Christianity has said He is for close to two millennia.

To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to reading the final chapter, which deals with the resurrection of Christ.  This is mainly because I, perhaps like many Christians, have already heard (ad nauseum?) the arguments for Jesus’ resurrection several times.  It is this bias that made Craig’s treatment so refreshing.  While it certainly does rehash many arguments heard before (e.g., why would the disciples fabricate a resurrection story with women being the first witnesses?), the text is far from “been there, done that.”  Craig develops the argument on evidences for three facts: the empty tomb, the resurrection appearances, and the origin of the Christian faith.

Throughout, Craig applies C. Behan McCullagh’s seven factors used in weighing a historical hypothesis (see p.233).  Craig applies these criterion to all of the theories regarding the empty tomb, resurrection appearances, and the origin of the Christian faith.  The result is a very powerful series of arguments.  Although I read Craig’s text as a believing Christian, I wonder if a non-Christian could read this chapter and (honestly) be unconvinced of Christ’s resurrection.

I was especially struck by the power of his argument for the origins of the Christian faith.  Typically, I had never considered this as an important point, but as Craig concludes,

The origin of Christianity ower itself to the belief of the earliest disciples that God had raised Jesus from the dead.  That belief cannot be plausibly accounted for in terms of either Christian, pagan, or Jewish influences…The origin of the Christian faith is therefore inexplicable unless Jesus actually rose from the dead (p.395).

Craig’s book closes with a few pages about “the ultimate apologetic,” viz. the life of the Christian, which adds a concluding ministerial touch to what was (by his admission and intent) a text focussed primarily on theory.

As a whole, Reasonable Faith is the powerhouse of Christian apologetics that one would expect from the powerhouse of apologetics that is William Lane Craig.  I would commend it highly to anybody interested in what I find to be one of the most exciting fields of Christian study.  I will restate my caveat that this is indeed a technical text, and the intended audience (seminary students) ought to be at least casually versed in various philosophical and theological terms.  Said audience should also be prepared to take their time (though maybe not a year…) to try to digest much of the heavy solids that are on every page.  Somewhat like a text in systematic theology, Reasonable Faith, after an initial reading, will at the very least serve well as a reference book.  I can hardly think of a better starting point for the serious student of apologetics.  It is worth the effort, head explosions inclusive.

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Why Apologetics?

I’m not huge on apologetics.  It’s not that I find it invaluable or dull; I simply only have so much time in the day.  In the midst of all that has to get accomplished in life, some things have to get cut.  For me, one of those things is apologetics. Instead, I’ve allowed Brian to pick up the slack for me and do all the heavy lifting while I sit back in my insular world of exegetical debate.

Nonetheless, I can’t help but be interested in apologetics to some degree, especially since so many of my non-Christians friends and coworkers buy into junk that gets spewed out on a regular basis.  For instance, Dan Brown writes a book full of historical inaccuracies and incredible leaps of logic, but people buy into it.  It’s simply hard to sit by and listen to people regurgitate his junk without saying something about how wrong it is.  That is, on basic level, engaging in apologetics.

But after watching a video of John Piper interviewing Doug Wilson about his upcoming documentary, Collision, I encountered a slightly different take on public apologetics than I had previously heard.  Collision is a documentary of a debate tour Doug Wilson conducted with well-known atheist, Christian Hitchens.  Wilson and Hitchens debated on a few university campuses over the topic: Is Christianity good for the world?

Wilson referred Acts 18:27-28 to present a more church-focused view of apologetics than what I had previously thought of.  Here is that text:

When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the believers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him.  When he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed.  For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah.

What Wilson points out here is that by engaging in public debate, Apollos encouraged the church.  Wilson’s goal is that by answering the objections someone like Hitchens has to Christianity, he is able to encourage those who face those same questions (especially university students).  It’s interesting because I’ve never really thought about the pastoral function of apologetics.  By answering the critics of Christianity, one can encourage those whose faith has been “dented” (to us Wilson’s word from the interview).

To be sure, Wilson says that he would love for unbelievers to come to faith, as one would expect.  But his point about giving Christians confidence that there are answers to the questions that are thrown at them is one that sticks out to me.  Maybe for those who are more knowledgeable of apologetics this is old hat.  For anyone interested in encouraging other Christians, perhaps taking up the challenge of apologetics is worthwhile, if not necessary.

I’ve included the trailer for the documentary below.  I’ve tried to get the video of Piper’s interview with Wilson on here, but I can’t figure out how to do this with wordpress (score a point for blogger) and it isn’t on youtube yet.  When it is loaded onto youtube (and I think it will be), I’ll let you know.  Until then, you can go here, (video will open, it’s about 15 minutes long).

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Many thanks again to Connie at Crossway Books for this review copy.  Continued apologies to Connie and Danny that this is long overdue.

For this portion of my review of William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith, I will focus on the topic to which Craig devotes his largest section:  De Deo.  (You can find my introduction comments here, and part 1 of my review here.)  These 100+ pages Craig devotes to the existence of God contain the 14 figures in Craig’s text, the Cyclic Ekpyrotic Scenario inclusive.  In my opinion, these chapters, while still full of useful information, are among the most difficult to read.  I can easily envision a reader getting stuck here, and putting the book down for, let’s say, a year or so.  Said reader would be especially susceptible to this if he or she were easily seduced by other books. Ahem.  Moving on.

Craig divides De Deo into two sections.  The first opens up with a brief history of the four major arguments for God’s existence that he addresses:  The ontological argument, the cosmological argument, the teleological argument, and the moral argument.  The remainder of the first sections addresses the cosmological argument in two forms: that proposed by Leibnitz, and the Kalam cosmological argument.  As the cosmological argument his admitted favorite (p.194), it is no real surprise that he spends 50 pages discussing it (c.f., 10 pages on the moral argument, and this despite the fact that in his experience the moral argument is most effective when witnessing to others, p.194).

Around seventy percent of his section on the cosmological argument are arguably introductory texts in cosmology, as Craig labors to show that the universe began to exist.  While critical to the cosmological argument, in my opinion, Craig’s text dives too deeply into the mind-bending waters of multiverses, black holes, and other areas of physics, to actually edify his intended audience (a seminary level apologetics class, p.12).  Instead, I would guess that most would walk away just taking his word for it.  I consider myself fairly comfortable with the sciences, having two technical degrees that both required a good deal of mathematics, chemistry and physics, but through most of this chapter, I was…(wait for it)…lost in space.

Physics and astronomy aside, there is much to commend Craig’s treatment of the existence of God.  For example, in Craig’s discussion on the nature of the first cause (i.e., Kalam Cosmological argument), he explores the high probability that the cause is personal (pp.152-154).  His treatment is highly edifying, and in my opinion a much needed addendum to the many of the arguments for God, since some of them leave room for an impersonal god, or creative force.

I was also impressed by Craig’s closing section of practical applications (pp.189-196).  Consider the following:

What we aspire to show is that atheism is false, not that it is irrational for anybody to hold.  We do that by presenting good arguments for theism.  Remember:  persons are rational; arguments are sound.  We’re interested in whether there are sound arguments for God’s existence based on premises which are more plausible than their denials.  We don’t need to make a personal judgment on the rationality or irrationality of non-theists.

This quote typifies Craig’s ability to keep the reader’s eye on the ball, as it were, and his text is rife with paragraphs reminding us of what we are, and are not trying to prove or do.  Anybody who has engaged in a conversation with a non-theist has experienced the tendency to drift from the matter at hand, engaging in goose chases that only distract from the original point.  In his book, and on his website, Craig exemplifies the ability to keep a focus on issues (i.e., not people), and avoid the quasi-related (if at all) peripheral concepts that can easily blow up a conversation.

While not a slam dunk, De Deo is ultimately worth the effort.  Though some of the text may be outside of my grasp, as Craig himself states, “In order to recognize an explanation as the best, one needn’t be able to explain the explanation” (p. 171).

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Many, many thanks to Connie at Crossway Books for this review copy.  Thanks and apologies to Connie and Danny that it’s taken me a year to get around to a review of this book, a delinquency for which I have no good excuse, save several weak ones that perhaps taken together…

 I am as intimidated as I am happy at the chance to review William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith, which Craig himself supposes to be his “signature book” (p.11).  I have already commented on the excellent introduction to this book here, and would commend it to anyone who would question prima facie the merit Christian apologetics.

The purpose of the book, Craig states, is to focus primarily on the theoretical issues of Christian apologetics, as opposed to offering a manual of “how to’s” (p.23).  Pragmatists (among whom I count myself) needn’t worry, however.  While Craig does indeed focus on theory, he touches down often enough to help the reader apply what has been discussed.  That said, make no mistake that this is not a light read.  This is a book for study and careful reflection, not a cozy morning on the porch.  Consider, for example, some titles taken from the table of figures (p.9):  “Cyclic Ekpyrotic Scenario,” “Oscillating Model with entropy increase,” and “Bubbles of true vacuum in a sea of false vacuum.” 

Craig is very thorough, and very technical, but the diligent reader needn’t worry; let not the titles above scare you away.  Like many (most?) matters in study, the reward you will reap from careful reading of this book is well worth a few trips to the dictionary, or re-reads of a paragraph.  To be fair, I should also mention that text isn’t all cyclic ekpyrotic scenarios, either, and Craig often explains the terms he uses in the lucid, frank prose that makes him one of my favorite apologists.  At the very worst, while you not come away being able to describe why the cyclic ekpyrotic scenario fails to explain the universe, should you find yourself witnessing to an astrophysicist who has interest in such matters, boy do you have the book for him!

Craig’s book is broken down into five major sections, an arrangement inspired by some of the principal themes of post-Reformation Protestant theology:  faith, man, God, creation and Christ (or de fide, de homine, de Deo, de creatione, and de Christo, as Craig titles them, much to the pleasure of my nerdliness).  I shall break down this review roughly along these lines, so as to keep each post managable.

Each section begins with a historical background viz., how have other thinkers addressed this issue?  These are immesely helpful, and well-written.  They also do well to remind us, in the tradition of Isaac Newton, that we stand on the shoulders of thousands upon thousands of great minds.  Craig’s development is chronological, and lays the groundwork for his own, present day “assessment,” which follows.

In De Fide, Craig makes an important distinction:  There is a difference between knowing the Christian faith to be true and showing the Christian faith to be true.  He goes on to explore both of these topics at length, fleshing out the details of each.  For Craig, the heart of knowing Christianity to be true is the work of Holy Spirit testifying that it is true (e.g., pp. 43, 46).  Craig’s support for this is a perfect blend of  copious  Scriptural support (e.g., 1 Jn. 3:24; 4:13) and well-reasoned arguments.  This mixture is seasoned with rebuttals to common objections.

Consider, for example, Craig’s response to the “objection” that some neuro-scientists can artifically stimulate certain areas of the brain to induce “religious experiences.”   A believer’s experience of the witness of the Holy Spirit, then, is not a function of the Holy Spirit so much as a physiological phenomenon.  It follows, that we ought not to trust this “sense.”  Craig notes, however, that other senses, such as hearing and vision, are clearly associated with certain parts of the brain, and they are also manipulable to induce sounds and sights that do not truly exist.  Do we therefore dismiss our vision and hearing as unreliable?  (p.50)  Even more, that there is an area of the brain associated with religious experience could actually be taken to testify that God made us that way.

De Homine, which is easily my favorite chapter, examines “the Absurdity of Life without God.”  I’ve lightly touched on this issue before, but Craig dives in with a full bore, exploring “the disastrous consequences for human existence, society, and culture if Christianity should be false” (p.65).  Put simply, this is the best chapter I’ve ever read on the topic.  Craig holds no punches, and explicitly spells out exactly how hopeless, meaningless and, well, absurd, human life is without God.  This of course does not prove that there is a God, but it does show the inconsistency of a happy atheist.  Frequent quotes of popular atheists often make Craig’s point for him, such as his embarassment of Richard Dawkins on pp.80-81.  (N.b., This is not the only time Craig makes Dawkins look like a hack; the interested reader could also consult reviews of Dawkins’ work by Marxist literary critic Terry Eagleton or Christian philospher Alvin Plantinga).

My review is a scant 90 pages into this 400+ page book, but in my opinion, it is already well worth the price of admission.  In part 2, I will tackle the two lengthy chapters that comprise De Deo.  I promise that it will take less than one year for me to do so.

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One of the first courses I downloaded from biblicaltraining.org was the late Dr. Ron Nash’s foundations lecture, History of Philosophy. The series consists of seven lectures of about 30 minutes each.  The course is very much introductory, and decidely limited in scope.  However, please do not take this as a negative comment. This series is a great appetizer, as it were, for further study on these important topics. To that end, Dr. Nash frequently plugs his book Life’s Ultimate Questions, and the longer, similarly-titled lecture series offered in the “Leadership” section of biblicaltraining.org.

I once heard a preacher joke that philosophers seek to answer all the questions that nobody really asks. To wit: When did you last wonder how you know what you know? For most people, the answer is “never.” However, the philisophical topic of epistemology is very much conerned with this question. Why does this matter? In his first lecture, and in the lectures that follow, Nash fleshes out some of the practical implications of such topics.  Have you ever heard somebody say that they don’t believe in God because there is no way to prove He exists? What is at stake here is fundamentally a question of (drum roll) epistemology: How do we know?  The person demanding proof of God’s existence is also making a statement about their worldview: They believe the only way one can know anything is through proof.  Nash notes that this worldview, however, is self-defeating.  Why?  Because it cannot stand up to its own terms.  Namely, you cannot prove that the only way to know something is by proving it.

I would commend the class to anybody looking to whet their appetite for philosophy, theology and apologetics.  Understanding the basic components of a worldview, and thinking through the resulting implications, can be a powerful witness to unbelievers, and often a much needed corrective to our own views.  Nash is an easy listen, and does well to keep the technical jargon to a minimum, and well-explained when necessary.  At the very, very worst, you’ll be a hit at parties when you squeeze the word “epistemology” into a casual conversation.  And by “hit” I mean “geek.”  Welcome to our world.

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Despite what Danny may have lead you to believe, I am not reading “Goodnight Moon.”  Perhaps that’s misleading.  I am not reading “Goodnight Moon” exclusively.  I recently picked up the third edition of William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith.  Craig is a celebrated Christian apologist, and (insofar as I can tell), the most intelligent person presently on this earth.  I look forward to writing a review for this book, which he describes as a foundational text for his many writings.

While the full book review is pending, I wanted to spend some time interacting with Craig’s introduction in Reasonable Faith.  Of particular interest to me was his claim that apologetics is a vital part of evangelism.  More specifically, he solidly rebukes the dismissive attitude many Christians have towards apologetics because “you can’t argue someone over to Christ.”  I’ll save Craig’s specific responses to this sentiment for my review, but I did want to offer up a few thoughts of my own on the topic.

I taught a class on evangelism some years ago, and I remeber making the very statement: “You can’t argue someone over to Christ.”  Even a year ago, I was exchanging several e-mails with an atheist, and made a similar statement to him up front:  I’d love to debate with you, but I have no expectation that you’ll become a Christian as a result.  Why did I think this?  Because “you can’t argue someone over to Christ.”

Recently, I’ve begun to question the wisdom of this statement, and consider its roots.  I fear that too many Christians have uncritically bought into this statement wholesale; my own examples above to wit.  I believe this is a grave mistake, and dismissing apologetics as ineffective is unwise.

Whence the statement “you can’t argue someone over to Christ”?  I believe that it is largely a reaction to those who have engaged in arguments with unbelievers poorly.  Certain Christians have not “spoken the truth in love,” but rather, used apologetic arguments as a means to attack, belittle, or otherwise defeat an unbeliever.  The motivation here (admitted or not) has not been love for the person, or obediance to the Great Commission, but rather one of pride:  ‘winning’ the argument for the sake of winning; ‘winning’ in order to elevate oneself over another.  Moreover, I believe that too many Christians have relied on intellectual argument alone, to the exclusion of relationship, sharing one’s story, prayer, etc.  Let’s not forget the danger of not listening, either.  Francis Shaeffer, my own apologetic hero, remarked that when engaged with an unbeliever he would listen 95% of the time, and in the remaining 5%, try to offer one or two statements of the Truth in response.

How about the Biblical evidence?  Did not Paul reason from the Scriptures (Acts 17:2)?  Were not many added to the Body in resonse to Peter’s sermon (Acts 2:14-41)?  Ought not we be prepared to give the reason for our hope in Christ (1 Pet. 3:14-16)?  Craig looks at this in greater detail in his introduction, and examples abound.

Finally, for those with a penchant for empiricism, I have actual evidence that one can be argued over to Christ:  I was.  At 24, a single sentence in Paul Little’s Know Why You Believe grabbed a hold of me.  A day later, I gave my life to Christ.  God used this book, this series of intellectual arguments, as the hinge point in my conversion.  I praise God that Mr. Little didn’t abandon his book because “you can’t argue someone over to Christ.”

I would therefore propose an amendment to the statement in question:  “You can’t argue someone over to Christ IF

…you do so with a posture of arrogance or self-righteousness.”

…you do so to the peril of relating to that person as a fellow sinner infinitely loved by God.”

…you do so merely to ‘win’ the argument.”

…you talk more than you listen.”

At the end of the day Christians are just blind beggars telling other blind beggars where to get bread.  We should exhaust every facility of our being, including our capacity for reasoned argument, to direct others to the Bread of Life.

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