I became a Christian when my first two children were very young. They have no memory of me prior to my conversion. But all four of my kids were raised in Christian community. I didn’t train, mentor or prepare them on my own, and you shouldn’t either. Young Christians are facing a formidable task as they get ready to enter an adult culture growingly hostile to the Christian worldview. While Christian leaders may disagree about the severity of the problem, the evidence of attrition amongst 17-30 year olds is well documented. If our kids aren’t trained and exposed to the challenges at an early age, they are far more likely to leave the Church. And while it is tempting to think we, as parents, are all our kids will ever need, this is simply untrue. Parents, don’t train your kids on your own. [Read more...]
I feel honored to be a very small part of the faculty at Biola University (where I serve as an Adjunct Professor in the Master’s Degree program in Christian Apologetics). Two weeks ago I taught a class covering the material in Cold-Case Christianity and began by asking the seventy-four students in my class why they wanted an advance degree in apologetics. Thirty of these students said they were taking the class to grow in their faith. The remaining forty-four said they were either teaching apologetics locally or planned on teaching apologetics in the future. This latter group saw the Biola graduate degree as an important step of preparation. Not everyone agrees.
In fact, some people in the Christian community think an advanced degree in apologetics is largely a waste of time. Two people I deeply admire have come out publicly with this assertion: Max Andrews (of the Sententias Blog) and Glenn Peoples (of the Right Reason Blog) both wrote blog posts this year entitled, “Don’t Get a Degree in Apologetics”. Andrews and Peoples believe an academic degree in an advanced, specific discipline (i.e. biblical studies, history, historiography, theology, philosophy, physics, chemistry, etc.) is a far better choice than a broad degree in apologetics. Andrews writes:
“My advice is to pick a discipline and excel in that discipline. All the greatest apologists have a discipline: Gary Habermas, Mike Licona, William Lane Craig, NT Wright. etc. Don’t be a jack of all trades. Be a master of one and be skilled in many.”
Think about those who have reputations as being the best apologists out there (whether they use the word “apologetics” or not). Everyone’s list will be slightly different, but the list will probably include names like C. S. Lewis, Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, Ravi Zacharias, William Lane Craig, John Lennox, Peter Kreeft, Richard Bauckham and others. Do you want to be a great apologist? Great. Do you think these people are / were great apologists? I agree. OK, now ask yourself what all of these people – along with probably every other person you might add to this list – lack. They probably lack a whole lot of things, but one of the things they lack is a degree in apologetics.
Let me take a minute to respond to these statements and make an important distinction between expert witnesses and case makers. Both have been incredibly important in every criminal case I’ve ever seen presented in front of a jury. Expert witnesses are critical and foundational to jurors. Without these men and women, the evidential foundation for each case would be insufficient. I rely on expert witnesses to testify about DNA, fingerprint, behavioral and other forensic issues; these folks are often the centerpiece of my case. But there is another critical participant in every jury trial. I’ve seen great evidential cases ruined by poor case makers. A young, inexperienced (or simply ungifted) prosecutor can make a mess of a case in front of a jury. Case makers are the directors, authors, orchestrators and presenters for every case argued to a jury. They seam together the divergent testimonies and translate the experts so jurors understand their importance (and their role within the larger case).
Expert witnesses are narrowly focused and typically have difficulty relating to the lay-people who make up the jury; the attorneys stand in the gap, weaving the expert testimony into the overarching case and “throwing the ball” so jurors can “catch it”. You can have great expert witnesses and still lose at trial. In fact, in every case I’ve worked, the defense has also called equally qualified, educated and accomplished expert witnesses who have testified in opposition to the experts called by the prosecution. The case makers (the attorneys) were responsible for arguing why their experts were more relevant than those from the other side. In criminal trials, case makers are just as important as expert witnesses, and this is also true in the Christian community. Without a good case maker, expert testimony can sound a lot like, “blah, blah, blah”.
There are very few (and I mean very few) expert witnesses in the Christian community who are also popularly accessible case makers. Let’s be honest about that. Some of these great thinkers are friends of mine, and I think they would acknowledge their role quite happily. Richard Bauckham’s incredibly important work, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, has not been nearly as successful as Lee Strobel’sCase for Christ. In fact, many of these amazing expert witnesses would still be largely unread (and unknown) if they hadn’t appeared in Lee’s work. Case makers make expert testimony accessible and show how the limited evidence offered by these experts fits into the larger case. That’s what Lee has done so brilliantly over the years. It’s no coincidence we’re experiencing a renaissance in apologetics simultaneous with the success of Lee’s books. Great case makers amplify the work of great expert witnesses. In fact, you could take the book sales of everyone mentioned by Andrews and Peoples combined (with the obvious exception of C. S. Lewis and Ravi Zacharias) and they wouldn’t come close to the book sales of Lee Strobel or Josh McDowell alone. Lee and Josh are great case makers (neither has an advanced degree in a specialty area by the way); both are relying on the testimony of great expert witnesses.
Let me make one final observation. Courtroom dramas are incredibly popular in our culture. Think about your favorite book, television show or movie in this genre. Now let me ask you a question: Which characters are highlighted most in these dramas? Who are the protagonists or antagonists featured in each story? In most courtroom dramas, the primary characters are the attorneys and detectives: the case makers. Think about it. Whenever an investigative drama features an expert witness as the primary character (in shows like CSI or Quincy) the experts are actually mischaracterized and given investigative or case making roles they don’t actually possess in real life. The culture is far more interested in case makers and investigators than it is in expert witnesses. People are more interested in the total picture than the minutia; they want to hear the case in their own language, and they are far more likely to embrace people with whom they can relate. Case makers are just as important as expert witnesses (and perhaps more important when it comes to influencing a culture).
So take a hard look at your gifting and your interests. If you’re better suited as an expert witness, interested in specific fields of study and focused academically, get the degree in biblical studies, history, historiography, theology, philosophy, physics, or chemistry as Andrews and Peoples would suggest. God will use you powerfully to establish the foundation from which a case can be made. But if you’re more interested (and gifted) in communicating the overarching, cumulative case for Christianity (constructed from the testimony of many experts), feel free to pursue a degree in case making (apologetics). The church needs expert witnesses and case makers and these are usually two different sets of people. Great expert witnesses aren’t always great apologists, and great apologists (like Lee Strobel, Josh and Sean McDowell, Frank Turek, Greg Koukl and many others you know by name) don’t have to be expert witnesses.
I’ve written quite a bit about the reliability of the New Testament eyewitness accounts in Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels and at ColdCaseChristianity.com. I believe there are many good reasons to accept the Gospels as eyewitness accounts, and I’ve focused on four characteristics of reliable eyewitness testimony to demonstrate the trustworthy nature of the Gospels. In an effort to summarize the case for the New Testament in a different way, I’d like to offer the following brief outline:
(1) The New Testament Has Been Faithfully Transmitted
The overarching content of the New Testament Gospels can be tested over time as we examine the writings of those who learned from the apostolic eyewitnesses:
1. Clement of Rome (c. A.D. 95)
2. Ignatius of Antioch (c. A.D. 115)
3. Polycarp, a disciple of John, (c. A.D. 108)
(b) It Was Recognized in Geographically Independent Areas
1. Irenaeus (in Asia Minor)
2. Origen (in Alexandria, Egypt)
3. Hippolytus (in Rome)
4. Eusebius (in Cæsarea, Palestine)
5. Athanasius (in Alexandria, Eqypt)
(c) The Informational Content of the New Testament is Reflected in the Writings of the Students of the Apostolic Eyewitnesses
(d) The New Testament Documents are Larger in Number and Closer in Proximity to the Events than ANY Other Ancient Record [Read more...]
The Biblical authors used two words currently translated as “soul”: “nephesh” (neh’-fesh) in the Old Testament and “psuche” (psoo-khay’) in the New Testament. These Hebrew and Greek words are used to describe many characteristics of animals and humans other than their soulish nature, so for the most part, they typically don’t tell us much about the nature of the soul. There are, however, two places in the New Testament where the word “psuche” does seem to be describing our dual nature as soulish creatures:
“And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
2 Corinthians 5:1-8
For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven; inasmuch as we, having put it on, shall not be found naked. For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed, but to be clothed, in order that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge. Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord — for we walk by faith, not by sight — we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.
In these two passages, a clear distinction is drawn between the body and the soul. In the Matthew passage, although the word for “soul” (psuche) can be translated in a number of ways, the most reasonable inference here is Paul’s use of the word to describe our dual nature as physical beings with immaterial, everlasting, “souls”. These souls cannot be destroyed by the death of the body. Paul calls the soul our “house” made by God; as soon as we are away from the body we are at home with the Lord. We can learn a lot from these (and other) passages describing the clear disembodied life of the soul (I’ve posted an entire section on the nature of the soul at the ColdCaseChristianity.com website). Here is a quick summary of what the Bible teaches about the nature of our souls: [Read more...]
With the rise in popularity of movies like Zeitgeist: The Movie and The God Who Wasn’t There, skeptical objections to the historicity of Jesus sometimes take the form of comparisons between Jesus and ancient mythologies preceding Him. Skeptics highlight similarities between Jesus and Horus, Mithras, Osiris or other ancient examples of “dying and rising” saviors. How should we, as Christians, respond to such objections?
1. Expose the False Claims:
Close scrutiny of pre-Christian mythologies reveals they are less similar to the story of Jesus Christ than critics claim. The gods of mythology were not born of a virgin as Jesus was born to Mary, they did not live a life that was similar to Jesus in detail, they did not hold the titles attributed to Jesus, and they were not resurrected in a manner remotely similar to the resurrection of Christ. Primitive mythologies simply fail to resemble the Biblical account of Jesus when they are examined closely. Expose the false claims of those who say Jesus was copied from prior mythologies.
2. Expose the Errant Strategy:
Critics typically “cherry pick” from the mythological attributes of a variety of pagan gods and exaggerate the alleged similarities to construct a profile vaguely similar to Jesus. They search for singular similarities to the Christ of the Bible and then assemble these similarities from a variety of gods spanning the centuries and originating in geographically diverse regions (as if the 1st Century creators of the Jesus story would have access to these mythologies in the first place). Given this strategy, nearly any person from history can be said to be a recreation of preceding characters, either fictitious or historical. There is no single prior mythology significantly similar to Jesus. Expose the selective strategy of those who say Jesus was copied from prior mythologies. [Read more...]