Articulating One’s Beliefs Can Be a Challenge

images-11Introduction.

Despite the fact of my not posting since the beginning of the month, I have not lost sight of the mission. Working with the people I work with, some of them being some of the most profane people that I have ever come across, I have not lost sight with how I am “wired” and the ministry mission. Even though where I am (on my job) during a good chunk of the week, I know the presence of the Lord and the conviction of His Holy Spirit, even while I “occupy Mordor” and pray for a change.

Thankfully I still do get to enjoy a day off during the week, and I am going to be protecting that day in the coming weeks for specific reasons, that I will not mention here. In spite of all the demands of my job, this week was a wonderful day off and allowed me to speak to a repair man for one of our appliances, and a handful of students at the Germanna campus.

What was the nature of these conversations? They were spiritual in nature, and I would like to share here some thoughts on what I learned about these conversations.

The Need for Articulating the Christian Faith

One of our appliances stopped working and we needed some outside assistance. Even though I was able to unstop a bathroom sink and our bathtub drain (thank you YouTube), I was not able to work this task.

The appliance repair company “rep” that came and assisted us is a Christian and attends a large local Baptist church regularly and adult Bible fellowship on a regular basis.  How did I know he was Christian?

Thankfully he shared that with my wife and me, by sharing the message on the back of his business card. When I asked him his understanding of his message, he started sharing with me a basic message of salvation and how Jesus died  for our sins on the cross. Of course I was happy to see him start there. However when I continued with him on his understanding at a deeper level, he started struggling. Why was there a struggle?

Allow me to share my concerns, as they are very similar ones that I am hearing in other conversations. [Read more...]

Youth, Popularity, and Apologetics

Students Love Answers More Than the Church Loves AnswersI was listening to J. Warner Wallace’s podcast recently, and it’s one I encourage all of you to listen to. He talked about presenting talks on apologetics and how youth get enthused about it. I started pondering then why that might be, and I’d like to share a suspicion I have on the matter.

I have written much on how the ancient world was an honor/shame culture where we’re a more individualistic one, but that does not mean that we are totally devoid of any idea of shame. Social status is everything to many a teenager. This is why so many of them buy clothes they might not care for and get into fads that they wouldn’t care for otherwise. They want to fit in with their peers and not be embarrassed. [Read more...]

Why Does Opposition to Apologetics Come From Mostly Within the Church?

Apologetics is a branch of Christian theology that helps give reasons for the truthfulness of the Christian faith/worldview. The word “Apologia” means “to give reasons, make a legal defense” (Acts 26:2; 2 Tim. 4:16; 1 Pet 3:15). The apostles approach to spreading the message of the Gospel is characterized by such terms as “apologeomai/apologia” which means “to give reasons, make a legal defense” (Acts 26:2; 2 Tim. 4:16; 1 Pet 3:15); “dialegomai” which means “to reason, speak boldly” (Acts 17:2; 17; 18:4; 19:8), “peíthō” which means to persuade, argue persuasively” (Acts 18:4; 19:8), and “bebaioō ” which means “to confirm, establish,” (Phil 1:7; Heb. 2:3). [1]

Over the years, I have the privilege to collaborate with many others who are involved in the apologetic endeavor. One thing is for sure: Most of the opposition to apologetics comes from within the Church itself. But why is this? After all, though Jesus didn’t run around calling Himself an apologist, he did offer reasons and evidence for His Messiahship. As I just said, Paul and the apostles did apologetics on several occasions. I have written about more about here. Recently, I sent an email out to several ministry leaders about the need for apologetics in the local congregation.  Keep in mind, the list had about 100 people on it. I did get one response which led to a radio interviewRobin Schumacher discusses a story about his friend who sent a similar letter to ministry leaders. [Read more...]

Breaking Down the ‘We’re all Atheists’ Objection

Introduction Several months ago, I went to a local “religious freedom” rally here in Fredericksburg. The rally was commemorating Thomas Jefferson’s Religious Freedom amendment, with a parade from downtown to the Religious Freedom monument and included a host of speakers. The keynote speaker was William J. Murray, the son of the late Madalyn Murray O’Hair. Marching in the parade there were a handful of groups, including a local Musim group and three humanist/atheist groups seeking a presence here in “the Burg.”

After the event, I made my way over to the representatives from the local Coalition of Reason and struck up a conversation with a man by the name of “Glen.” Glen was a  representative for the Fredericksburg Coalition of Reason, who was more than happy to share why he became an atheist from Methodism in the 70′s.  All it took was my question on where reason came from, and we were off and rolling for the next 40-45 minutes on a street corner overshadowed by a church.

He had a lot of “pet arguments” for why people of faith were delusional, but it was a favorite atheist “gauntlet” which surfaced during our conversation that I would like to share in this post. Many of us are familiar with the statement from atheists: “We’re all atheists, we just go one ‘god’ further than you.”  What I would like to do is give a response to this objection, knowing that there may be other ways to do so. My hopes to show how this “gauntlet” is really a distraction from getting to the real issues on one’s rejection of the Judeo Christian God.

What about atheism and theism?

Whenever we find ourselves in a conversation with one professing to be an atheist, it is important clarify terms like faith, and in this case the definition of atheism. According to the break down of the word atheism, the “a” is an alpha privative denoting negation, or meaning “no.”  Put the alpha (“a)  of negation with the word, “theos” meaning God or god, and you have the formal definition of atheism. So the word “atheism” (no God/gods) is the belief that denies the existence of God or a supernatural being.[1] There is nothing new here for many of us.

We cannot stop here though. The word, “God” is often misconstrued in conversations with atheists as well. Many atheists think of “God” being a cosmic gum ball  machine, or an old man sitting up in the clouds ready to punish or reward for our bad or good deeds or even something else. If God were any of these, I would not believe in that kind of God either. So when we talk about God, we are talking about the God who exists as being, the personal, transcendent, moral,  timeless (eternal), immaterial or spaceless, Uncaused First Cause and Designer of the universe.

A theist is one who believes in the existence of God. Of course there are different kinds of theists, who  believe differently about the nature and the existence of God. Allow me a quick illustration using monotheism.

Theists who believe in the God of the Bible (Yahweh) could be called ‘Christian theists’ or  ‘Jewish  theists.’ However Islamic monotheism is different in that the Muslim believes that “God” (Allah) is personal, transcendent, timeless, and the one who is the First uncaused Cause of the universe. Islamic mono-theism is different from Judeo Christian monotheism in the understanding of how “God” interacts and intervenes with the creation. With reference to God’s interaction with His creation, Christian theism is providential, where Islamic monotheism is fatalistic (kismet). Space does not allow me to elaborate on this further you can read a post on my blog for more information.

Atheists redefine atheism by saying “we’re all atheists”

Atheism over the years has gotten some “bad press,” especially before 9/11, so some atheists have tried to redefine or defang the meaning of “atheism,” calling it a “lack of belief.” So the statement is a smoke screen for the real definition and “a card” for seeking an unfair  advantage in a conversation with a person of faith. But it is not a very good “card” to play. Why?

Since the atheist does not believe in the God of the Bible, the God of Islam or any of the deities of the polytheistic and pantheistic religions, the statement made by the atheist, thatwe’re all atheists,” seeks to put the theistic person of faith in the same position of belief as the atheist. The atheist follows this up with, “we’re just an atheist to one more God than you.” This “one more God” is the Judeo Christian God of the Bible.

But in their faulty attempt to level the playing field, it is really becomes a dishonest and shifty tactic that is easily dissectible.

Let me see if I can do clean job in dissecting it for us.  There are some pretty good reasons for what makes a coherent worldview. Those reasons give a clear understanding for rejecting the other religions’ views, including atheism. Just because there are good reasons for not believing  religion x, that does not make be an atheist to religion x. Why? Because the reasons for believing religion x prove to be inconsistent logically, metaphysically, and existentially, as well as biblically.

Now applying this, as a Christian theist, I don’t believe in the nature and interpretation of Islam’s “Allah” but that does not make me an atheist. There are some major differences between the God of the Bible and the Islamic interpretation of God. There is also a different understanding of the God of the Bible, opposed to the understanding of the pantheon of over 300 million deities in Hinduism, as well as the two major traditions of Buddhism.  Those understandings of God versus the other deities are worlds apart from each other. But just because they are different and I do not agree with them does not make me an atheist to them. Nor does it make me an atheist in the purest sense of the word.

So this statement made by the atheist is really a smokescreen that dissolves  when confronted with the truth. Those who follow one of those religions is based upon the fact that God has placed something in every person to seek truth in hopes that they will cry out to the true God and Creator. Speaking on quantitative terms here, all of the great world religions are merely a reflection of man not being able to find God, and that it is God who seeks us and shows us our need for Him. God in Christ is revealed not just the Bible, but also in history, evidenced by an empty grave.

Conclusion.

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned my atheistic conversant,”Glen.”  Glen and I spent an almost an hour in cordial conversation. When he “threw down” this objection that “we’re all atheists, and I am just atheistic to one more God than you.”  I cordially pointed to the weakness of his assertion. This opened the door for me to press him for the real reasons for why he was an atheist, and address his objections. At the end of the conversation we said our good byes, and shared information with the hopes of a future discussion at the local Starbucks or Blackstones.

Disbelieving in Allah, Brahman, Buddha, Shakti or any of the deities out there, does not make us atheistic to them. We would have to unwind the definition of “belief” if we wanted to go deeper into this subject. But Glen, like many atheists are “atheistic” to the Judeo Christian God. So when someone tries to press you or I with “we’re all atheists,” clear the smoke away from this gauntlet and press the unbeliever to the reasons why they deny the God of the Bible. Stay cordial and pray for them as you converse with them, and leave the results to our Lord.

Hopefully the impression you make with them in your cordiality and your knowledge about the truth of the Christian faith will put the stone in their shoe to further the conversation and quite possible see the truth and respond accordingly.

Note

[1] See the definition at the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy at http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/atheism-agnosticism/.

Why Would Anyone Get a Degree In Apologetics?

Why Would Anyone Get a Degree In ApologeticsI 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.”

Peoples agrees:

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.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity

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