We’ve just moved from Middle America to Texas. To say there is a bit of culture shock is an understatement. Things are a bit different down here. Don’t get me wrong. I love Texas. I married a Texan. I’m a Spurs fan. I remember the Alamo. We eat breakfast tacos. I even have a cowboy hat, which I dutifully wear at each commencement at graduation at SWBTS where I teach. (I don’t, however, have cowboy boots—I’ve drawn a line in the sand on that one). It’s just going to take a bit of getting used to, that’s all.
The short answer is “no.” The longer answer is “for almost everyone, still no.” The even longer and needlessly provocative answer is that “any PhD gained by a Christian has (or should have) Apologetics in it.”
I often get asked the title question, especially ever since Southwestern Seminary rolled out its new MA in Christian Apologetics. Christian Apologetics, by its very nature, is a multidisciplinary field of study. To be sure, there are the characteristic areas that typically comprise a study of apologetics. For example, a mainstay of the discipline is issues in Philosophy of Religion. In Phil. Religion we talk about arguments for God’s existence, the coherence of theism (including doctrines that might appear to be in tension with each other as well other problems, such as the problem of evil). This of course fits well within the scope and purpose of Apologetics. Thus, philosophy is a really important area for doing apologetics. However, doing a degree in philosophy does not adequately prepare one to be able to defend against the great variety of challenges and objections that come from other disciplines.
It is a fundamental datum of our experience that we all long for meaning; we long for a narrative in which to make sense of our lives, our passions, and our beliefs. But, if God doesn’t exist, the cold, hard truth is there is no meaning. We have a scratch, but no way to itch it. In an interview with Harper’s Magazine Christopher Beha, the atheist philosopher Alex Rosenberg states: Read More »
We are witnessing a shift away from the secularization (the diminishing influence of religion) of the 19th and 20th century. The 21st century is shaping up to be postsecular. As Jacobsen and Jacobsen say in their book, The American University in a Postsecular Age: “religion will likely exercise a significant role in human affairs for a long time to come. If secularization means that the world is getting a little less religious every day, then we live in a postsecular world.” (p.10) Read More »
Most of us make up our minds on worldview matters when we are relatively young. The process of worldview formation itself begins as early as one starts to form thoughts about the world. When we are young, we absorb (as if by a process of osmosis) categories and concepts from the influencers around us (parents, siblings, friends, school, media, etc.), which constitute our worldview. This is not to say that we cannot change our worldview when we are older, but all the statistics support the notion that doing so happens much more rarely after a particular point in our lives: the college years. So the college years are that pivotal moment when our thoughts on how to understand the world in its most basic categories crystallize. Read More »
“Who cares what Aristotle thinks about a severed hand,” retorted an exasperated philosophy student on a wintery night in a Midwestern university. My lecture screeched to a halt. As the class stared at me, enjoying the showdown, the subtext of my student’s comment was not lost on them or me: “Aristotle’s view of substance provides me with no ‘real world’ benefit, so it is useless knowledge.” Read More »
There are, on my view, a variety of values that can be had by practicing what we call Apologetics. Let’s first say what Apologetics is as a discipline. In its most general sense, apologetics is a preparatory discipline where one readies oneself to commend and defend the truth of Christianity. What immediately comes to mind for many of us are the overly cerebral arguments one may offer in defense of the faith. These are the ones that, for many, cause immediate eye glazing to occur. They may include formal arguments for God’s existence; historical evidence for the resurrection; addressing challenges, such as the so-called problem of evil; alleged contradictions in Scripture; and alleged moral issues in Scripture as well as a whole host of other academic topics. These are indeed in the corpus of Apologetics topics. However, on my view, commending and defending the faith may at times be much less cerebral. Read More »
Humility is very commonly thought of as a matter of self-deprecation. The thought seems to be that the more we put ourselves down, the more humble we are. This has led some philosophers throughout history to deny that humility is even a virtue but is instead more of a vice. However, this popular understanding is decidedly not the biblical notion of humility. The biblical notion of humility has very little to do with how we understand our worth or importance. Our worth is fixed by being created in God’s image. Furthermore, Jesus is the exemplar of living a life of humility (see Phil. 2:3-11). So His humility couldn’t have anything to do with his worth, since he is infinitely worthy. And we don’t ever see Jesus putting himself down. The Christian notion of humility, as exemplified by Jesus, is an attitude of how to relate to others. It has to do with our actions and the ends to which they are directed. More specifically, humility done Christianly is when one is oriented away from self and has God as one’s end. Read More »
It is very common for someone to object to Christianity on the basis of the belief that there is a wide array of contradictions in the Bible. It is also very common that, if pressed, the person raising this objection cannot name a single contradiction. However, it doesn’t take but an internet search of “Bible contradictions” to provide an abundance of opportunities to think about possible inconsistencies. We will of course not be able to address in this short article every single contradiction that is alleged or even very many of them. Instead I want to think more generally about how to evaluate alleged contradictions. I’m happy to tip may hand from the outset here and say that I do not believe there is a single contradiction in the entirety of the Bible. This is not an article of blind faith for me. I have come to this conclusion from a long and varied study of these issues as I have tried to approach this area as unbiased as possible. Read More »
It is sometimes asserted that God, if He exists, is not obvious. Some atheists will say that they would happily believe in God if (and really only if) God made Himself directly evident to them. The bold thought seems to be that it should be no problem for God, being all powerful, to make Himself known in a way that would make belief in Him more compelling. These thoughts can be formalized into the so-called problem of divine hiddenness. Read More »
There’s a lot of pain and suffering from which it seems no one is completely immune. It only takes a moment to think of the last heart wrenching tragedy to which the media-machine has forced our undivided attention. And for some of us, the pain and suffering is right there in our midst. Read More »
When we come to matters of Christian faith, it is not uncommon for folks to have a doubt from time to time. The typical prescription for these doubts seems to be very similar to the prescription for the common cold. Wait it out, treat symptoms as best you can, and then hope it goes away sooner than later. I suppose sometimes this may work for some. However, it is not going to work for everyone, and I think there are far more effective ways of confronting our doubts that can be powerful avenues for growth. Read More »
Much of the discussion in apologetics over the last few decades has centered on the proper apologetic methodology. For example, one sort of presuppositionalist thinks that we should start with the assumption that Christianity is true and then, on the basis of this assumption, our apologetic task is to show others how Christianity makes sense of many of the most important features of reality, such as moral facts and the regularity of nature. The evidentialist disagrees saying that we can use the principles of reason and give arguments, both philosophical and historical, in defense of the truths of Christianity. The classical evidentialist thinks we should first argue for the existence of God and only then proceed to argue for the particular truths of Christianity. Other evidentialists think that one can start with making arguments straightaway for the truths of Christianity.
Yesterday a friend told me a story about a conversation he had on an airplane with a woman who is an insurance executive (IE). It went something like this:
IE: I am a Lutheran. What are you?
Friend: I am a Baptist. Read More »
In my previous post, I argued that faith has its reasons. My claim was that the paradigm examples of so-called “blind faith” are not so blind, so long as we do not restrict our understanding of the notion of “reason” in, well, unreasonable ways. My more controversial thesis was that blind faith is an incoherent notion. One may not have altogether good reasons for placing one’s faith in something but I am not sure it is even possible to literally have no reasons at all.
Let’s look at another passage that some have taken as commending blind faith. In John 20:24-25, Thomas is told by the other disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead. They knew this on the basis of the following reason: they saw the risen Christ. Thomas claims that he will not believe that Christ had risen from the dead until he possesses the same reason as they and more still. He wanted not only to see Christ but to touch his wounds as well. Jesus graciously meets this very bold demand. It is important to note that Thomas is not explicitly reproved here for his radical criterion for belief despite its being worthy of reproof. Instead Jesus surely arrested his attention with a rhetorical question “Because you have seen Me, have you believed?” and offers a blessing for those who have believed without the evidence of the senses. He says, “blessed are they who did not see, and yet believe” (v. 29).
Is this a call to blind faith?
It seems to me that to think so would be to go beyond the scope of the blessing here in this text, since the blessing is not given for those who believe blindly with no evidence whatsoever. The blessing is only for those who do not require direct sense experience for belief. It is also important to point out that even without seeing Thomas already had good reasons for believing. Jesus, who had proven himself to be trustworthy many times over, had predicted his resurrection (Matt. 20:17-19) and, as was mentioned, Thomas’ closest friends testified to him that this had indeed happened. So I think what is commended here is that we should not require an unreasonable standard of evidence in forming our beliefs. Good evidence should be good enough. (We should note that much of what we know is on the basis of testimonial evidence, coming from parents, teachers, books, friends, various forms of media, etc. It is really only a small percentage of these things that we actually go out and confirm with our senses, and yet nevertheless we confidently and often times very rationally maintain belief on the basis of trusted sources.)
The mistake that Thomas made was that he wanted to have all of the details of the situation there before him without which he would not assent. Remember he was not just jealous of what the other disciples had in terms of evidence but demanded details far beyond the threshold of rational belief. We often fall prey to this temptation too. We so often want to see the beginning from the end before we will trust God in action. I have spoken to a lot of students who have started their college training quite sure that they are called to ministry but without a specific idea of where in ministry God will have them. This can be a really tough place to be. We often want to know not only where we are going to be but how it will turn out and what sacrifices and trouble we will have to confront. But biblical faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Heb. 11:1). It is simply a fact that there are many details to which we are not privy.
God, of course, could spell it all out for us, but He typically does not. Why doesn’t He?
To answer this question, let’s think about the nature of faith itself. Faith, in my view, is active trust, and trust always has an object. That is, when you trust, there is always some thing or person that you are trusting. When you sit in your chair or board an airplane, the object of your trust is the chair or airplane. I want to suggest that when we demand complete knowledge of our circumstances and God’s plan for us, the object of our trust actually ceases to be God. The object of our faith is really only ourselves and our abilities in these cases. When Thomas makes the demand to see and touch the risen Christ, the object of his trust seems to shift from Christ himself to his own sense faculties. By contrast, when Abraham proceeds to sacrifice Isaac in Genesis 22:1-19, Abraham maintains God as the object of his trust, even in something as terrifying as being asked to sacrifice your own child. It is for this that he is commended. So the reason why God does not reveal the beginning from the end to us in all cases is that he wants to be the object of our trust.
Faith … is active trust, and trust always has an object.
I think of the relation between faith and reason as one where reason can provide support for our faith. The fact is we can sometimes place our faith or trust in things that turn out to be poorly conceived ideas. Many people have trusted politicians, investments, their own abilities, loved ones, advertising campaigns, etc., for less than compelling reasons and have corresponding horror stories as a result. Though it is certainly not infallible, reason can be a tool for deciding which objects are trustworthy, or what we may call faith-worthy. I have talked to many people who can generate a lengthy list of events where God has proven himself time and time again. These provide more than enough reasons to place our faith in God. It would be for me, at this point, simply foolish to say there is no God, as my life can be characterized by a long series of demonstrations of the faithfulness and trustworthiness and realness of God, despite my occasional penchant for ceding my trust to my own self and other things. I’m not sure where you are at in your journey, but in case you are at a place where you have doubts about the above, my prayer is that you would investigate the faith-worthiness and greatness of God. As you do this with an honest heart, I am confident that He will provide you with great reasons for placing your faith in Him.
Not long ago, a cable TV show host, who is an outspoken atheist, had on his show a relatively well-known Christian pastor. In a discussion about morality and faith, which was overall friendly, the host asked the pastor why “faith” is a good thing. This appears innocent enough and is, I think, a good question. I wonder how many of us would have a good answer for this question. But the host didn’t leave it there. Here is how the full question was asked: Read More »
Last week, an article was published by LiveScience.com entitled Will Science Someday Rule Out the Possibility of God? Christians should be shaking in their boots, it seems. Science, the article claims, is close to proving that God does not exist. What will we do? Read More »
I find that it doesn’t take too much convincing for people to admit that there is something deeply wrong with us. Occasionally, someone might express the belief that people are, on the whole, good. However, with only a little prodding, most will admit that, despite our best intentions, everyone makes mistakes along the way, some of which have terrible consequences. So we have a problem, and we spend a fortune and countless hours in therapy, on self-help tools, and religious efforts as a corrective to this problem. My thesis is that Christianity is not simply the better solution to our human predicament than the alternatives. My thesis is that Christianity is the only solution that even addresses our human predicament. Read More »
With all the television publicity over Karen King’s recent release of information about the fragment of “Jesus’ wife,” pastors will likely receive questions from members this weekend or in the near future. For us, there will be two main questions. First, was Jesus married and does it matter. Second, what does “she will be able to be my disciple” mean in the discussion over proper women’s roles. Last night the news interviewed me on the matter. Since I had to do a little research I thought I would share it with you. If you know me well, then you know I am just a simple country boy so here is a Southern Fried guide to the fragment of “Jesus’ wife.” Read More »
If you have had interaction with almost anyone who is “hip” to pop culture, then you have undoubtedly heard someone make the claim that “there is no absolute truth” or “it’s wrong to make exclusive claims.” The fundamental problem with these relativistic claims is that they do not stand up to their own criteria. They are self-refuting claims. A claim is self-refuting when what is asserted by the claim is the very thing that falsifies the claim itself or renders it otherwise untenable. Self-refuting statements result in the hard-to-get-one’s-mind-around scenario such that if the statement is true, it is thereby false. What could such a thing possibly mean?! They are so bad that one cannot even assent to a self-refuting claim in a logically coherent way. We may, at this point, just as well meditate on the sound of one hand clapping! Read More »