Category Archives: Applied Apologetics
Greg Bahnsen was one of Van Til’s greatest expositors. His book Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith is a treasure trove of biblical instruction answering the Why and How of presuppositional apologetics. Here Bahnsen discusses the transcendental trust of the method. For those not familiar with Van Til’s approach it can be much at first, but once you “get it” you realize that you’re dealing with nuclear strength apologetics:
If the way in which people reason and interpret evidence is determined by their presupposed worldviews, and if the worldviews of the believer and unbeliever are in principle completely at odds with each other, how can the disagreement between them over the justification of Biblical claims be resolved? It might seem that all rational argumentation is precluded since appeals to evidence and logic will be controlled by the respective, conflicting worldviews of the believer and unbeliever. However this is not the case.
Differing worldviews can be compared to each other in terms of the important philosophical question about the “preconditions of intelligibility” for such important assumptions as the universality of logical laws, the uniformity of nature, and the reality of moral absolutes. We can examine a worldview and ask whether its portrayal of nature, man, knowledge, etc. provide an outlook in terms of which logic, science and ethics can make sense. It does not comport with the practices of natural science to believe that all events are random and unpredictable, for instance. It does not comport with the demand for honesty in scientific research, if no moral principle expresses anything but a personal preference or feeling. Moreover, if there are internal contradictions in a person’s worldview, it does not provide the preconditions for making sense out of man’s experience. For instance, if one’s political dogmas respect the dignity of men to make their own choices, while one’s psychological theories reject the free will of men, then there is an internal defect in that person’s worldview.
It is the Christian’s contention that all non-Christian worldviews are beset with internal contradictions, as well as with beliefs which do not render logic, science or ethics intelligible. On the other hand, the Christian worldview (taken from God’s self-revelation in Scripture) demands our intellectual commitment because it does provide the preconditions of intelligibility for man’s reasoning, experience, and dignity.
In Biblical terms, what the Christian apologist does is demonstrate to unbelievers that because of their rejection of God’s revealed truth, they have “become vain in their reasonings” (Rom. 1:21). By means of their foolish perspective they end up “opposing themselves” (2 Tim. 2:25). They follow a conception of knowledge which does not deserve the name (1 Tim. 6:20). Their philosophy and presuppositions rob one of knowledge (Col. 2:3, 8), leaving them in ignorance (Eph. 4:17-18; Acts 17:23). The aim of the apologist is to cast down their reasonings (2 Cor. 10:5) and to challenge them in the spirit of Paul: “Where is the wise? Where is the disputer of this world? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (1 Cor. 1:20).
In various forms, the fundamental argument advanced by the Christian apologist is that the Christian worldview is true because of the impossibility of the contrary. When the perspective of God’s revelation is rejected, then the unbeliever is left in foolish ignorance because his philosophy does not provide the preconditions of knowledge and meaningful experience. To put it another way: the proof that Christianity is true is that if it were not, we would not be able to prove anything.
What the unbeliever needs is nothing less than a radical change of mind – repentance (Acts 17:30). He needs to change his fundamental worldview and submit to the revelation of God in order for any knowledge or experience to make sense. He at the same time needs to repent of his spiritual rebellion and sin against God. Because of the condition of his heart, he cannot see the truth or know God in a saving fashion.
-Greg L. Bahnsen, Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith, 121-122.
Recently, Team Pyro posted this set of questions. According to the author, Phil Johnson:
Here’s a set of talking points the Jehovah’s Witnesses hand to their door-to-door teams to instruct them on how to foment doubt about the deity of Christ. Some lazy JW saw an article I wrote on the deity of Christ and as a kind of shorthand reply, he e-mailed me a copy of the handout he was given by his church.
Here are the questions (all typos are in the original):
IF JESUS IS GOD
- Why is he called the “firstborn” of all creation? Col. 1:15, Rev.3:14
- Why did he say that he did not come of his “own initiative” but was sent? John 8:42, 1 John 4:9
- Why did Jesus not know the “day and the hour” of the Great Tribulation but God did? Matt. 24:36
- Who did Jesus speak to in prayer?
- How did he “appear before the person of God for us”? Heb. 9.24
- Why did Jesus say “the Father is greater than I am”? John 14:28, Php. 2:5, 6
- Who spoke to Jesus at the time of his baptism saying “this is my son”? Matt. 3:17
- How could he be exalted to a superior position? Php. 2:9, 10
- How can he be the “mediator between God and man”? 1Tim. 2:5
- Why did Paul say the “the head of Christ is God”? lCor. 11:30
- Why did Jesus “hand over the Kingdom to his God” and “subject himself to God”? 1 Cor. 15:24, 28
- Who does he refer to as “my God and your God”? John 20:17
- How does he sit at God’s right hand? Ps. 110:1, Heb. 10:12, 13
- Why does John say “no man has seen God at any time”? John 1:18
- Why did not people die when they saw Jesus? Ex. 30:20
- How was Jesus dead and God alive at the same time? Acts 2:24
- Why did he need someone to save him? Heb. 5:7
- Who is reffered to prophetically at Prov. 8:22-31?
- Why did Jesus say “that all authority has been GIVEN to me in heaven and on earth”?Matt. 28.18, Dan. 7:13, 14 (similar)
- Why did he have godly fear? Heb. 5:7
- How could he learn obedience and be made perfect? Heb. 5:8-9
- Why would an angel be able to strengthen him or angels minister to him? Luke 22:43, Matt. 4:11
- Why would Satan try to tempt him if he KNEW that he was GOD? Matt. 4:1-11
- Jesus when sent to the earth was made to “be Lower” than the angels. Heb. 2:7. How could any part of a God Head EVER be lower than the angels?
- Then if Jesus was the sameas God, who was he being tempted to rebel against? could God be tempted to rebel against himself?Matt. 4:1
- Near the end of his earthly life, Jesus cried out “My God, why have you forsaken me?” Matt. 27:46 Can God desert or forsake himself?
- Heb. 5:8 says that Jesus learned obedience! To whom would he obey if he was GOD? And Does God need to LEARN anything?
- God’s justice is strickly perfect. Ex. 21:23-25 for example. The ransom price was one perfect human for another. An imperfect man’s life would be too low.Ps. 49:7 If Jesus was the same as God, the ransom price paid by a God would have been too high. Adam was a perfect MAN and the ransome price was a perfect MAN, not higher nor lower.
Two things really struck me about these questions:
- How badly Jehovah’s witnesses misunderstand the doctrine of the Trinity in general, and the role of Christ in redemption specifically. And,
- How bad Christians misunderstand the same things.
I think I’ll plug away at answering these questions in the next few days and weeks. It should be a helpful exercise in noting how biblical interpretation is twisted by bad doctrine.
A friend of mine brought this Youtube clip to my attention. It’s a “challenge” to orthodox Christianity’s view of Jesus as one person with two natures (human and divine). The person who created this clip claims that one simple question is enough to debunk Christianity. What’s the question? Watch this 1:40 clip and see for yourself:
Here are my thoughts:
This is actually a ridiculous “challenge.” Contrary, to the underlying assumption of this video, deception is not essential to our human nature. Working from within a biblical Framework (as I reject a humanistic framework), before the fall Adam and Eve were fully human, and yet did not lie. Human beings, in the new Heavens and Earth, will be completely, fully, and gloriously human, and yet will never lie or be subject to the temptation to lie. Christ, as the second and final Adam, was (and is) the perfect human being who lived a life of perfect covenant obedience.
Another important, but ignored point in this video, is the slippery meaning of the word “can,” as in Can Jesus lie? They’re asking whether Jesus “had the ability” to lie in his human nature. But there are different sorts of ability. The 2 types relevant here are moral ability and physical ability. As a human being, did Jesus have the physical ability to move his lips and say something untrue? Of course. And no thinking Christian would ever say otherwise. He wasn’t like Jim Carrey in the movie Liar, Liar. The relevant question is whether Jesus had the moral ability to lie, and there the answer is no. But, unlike most people’s misunderstanding, this is perfectly consistent with being a human being that is fully, perfectly, and utterly devoted to God (see comments above). There is nothing “artificial” about a relationship in which a husband never ever lies to his wife. It’s the mark of a flourishing relationship.
So, Jesus’ physical ability to lie (the ability to move his lips and say those words) affirms his full humanity, and his moral freedom from uttering deceptive words highlights that he is perfectly, not merely, human.
One common objection to believing the Bible I often hear is an objection to the slaughter of the Canaanite peoples during the time of the Israelite conquest of the promised land. The story of the Israelite conquest is not one that is easy on modern ears as we have seen a horrible century in which genocide has become an altogether too common occurrence. In all honesty, there are parts of the Old Testament are sometimes difficult to accept, especially as they relate to God’s character. I really wish some passages were not included in the scripture, and if I were writing them, they would not be. But that’s more evidence that the Bible is inspired by God. Stories that humans would cut out in effort to save God’s reputation as good and loving, God inspired to be included in his Holy Word in order to fully reveal his divine character. Maybe I’ll write more on that later, how about those tough to take passages? Take his command to King Saul of Israel,
Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction[a] all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey. ~1 Samuel 15:3
Camels and donkeys? Children and infants? Really? Or how about this statement regarding Israel’s destruction of Jericho at God’s prompting:
Then they devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys, with the edge of the sword. ~Joshua 6:21
Is the God of the Old Testament a lover of war and destruction? Is God a warmonger who arbitrarily takes out his frustration on innocent people? Reading certain passages and not taking into account the whole testimony of the Bible one could get this impression. The conquest of Canaan strikes at our notions of justice and fairness. Why does God command his people to wipe out an entire race of people? How can God do that and still be considered just and good? Even more so, these passages often propagate the doubts of non Christians who are skeptical of God in the first place. But perhaps the issue of God and war in the Old Testament is more complex than we realize. Could there be other factors that we need to take into consideration?
1. First, it is a legitimate question to ask if God is a warmonger. Christians rightly condemn ethnic cleansing in other contexts and there is no warrant today for nations to destroy other nations in order to take their land. However, there are special features of God’s commands to Israel to “ethnically cleanse” the land of Canaan that make this event unique, and not to be imitated, and allow it to be seen as an act of moral obedience (or, as we will see disobedience) to God. The command of God to radically annihilate the Canaanite peoples is only seen as a “right action” when placed in context of God’s plan of salvation in general, and his particular calling of Moses to be his mouthpiece to the people of Israel (Exodus 3-4:17; Numbers 12:1-5).
Moses is identified as God’s unique choice to be the lawgiver for the people of Israel, and the commands given through Moses come directly from God’s own mind (Deut. 18:15-20). Believers accept God’s divine appointment of Moses to speak his will. Without the command from God, delivered through Moses, Israel would have no right to the promised land and their actions could only be seen as immoral and evil. A fundamental conviction of the Bible, and of Christianity, is that the God of the Bible is the creator of all there is, and therefore the owner of all lands. God has a right to distribute territories according to his good and holy will (Exodus 19:5; Psalm 24:1).
While it is a justified question to ask if God is a warmonger, when considering God’s ownership of all the lands of earth, not to mention people, livestock, and other animals, the answer must come down: No, God is not a warmonger, he is the creator of all things who can do with these things what he pleases according to his good and holy will.
Shortly after becoming a believer in Jesus, I became interested Christian apologetics. Since then, I’ve made it a habit to expose myself to various forms of unbelief, whether that’s reading the works of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, atheists, or theological liberals. Liberals in particular, and John Shelby Spong in particular, are an interesting bunch. Spong has written books challenging the orthodox understanding of almost every essential Christian doctrine imaginable. But there is profit in reading some of his works. As a teaching exercise, I have always thought that it would be profitable endeavor to subject students (for apologetic purposes) to work through at least one of Spong’s books.
John Shelby Spong is, and has been for the past 30 years, a rockstar in the world of Protestant theological liberalism. As noted above he has written numerous books attacking doctrines such as the deity of Jesus, the reliability of the Bible, the virgin birth of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus, the moral acceptability of homosexuality within the Christian life, and even the personality of God (Spong advocates a “God without theism”). Spong’s works are veritable apologetic workbooks for deciphering logical fallacies, incongruous presuppositions, academic arrogance, and factual inaccuracies.
Lately I’ve been working through Spong’s Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, his 1994 work with the subtitle which reads “A Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture,” and its accompanying study guide. Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism is indeed a provocative title. If Spong, and his publishers, were using the words in the title of the precise sense in which they should be used, I would have no problem. After all, I do believe that the Bible needs to be “rescued” from the grips of a rigid, dogmatic, and overly literalized fundamentalism. Any approach to the Bible that overlooks historical settings, literary genres, figures of speech, and other things of this nature ultimately impresses upon the Bible a grid that forces it to say what our interpretive systems demand that it says. And this of course prevents us from hearing what God is saying. But this isn’t the type of fundamentalism that Spong is ultimately against.
For Spong, in the final analysis, a fundamentalist is a person who believes the Bible, who think it’s inspired by a personal and speaking God, who longs for the fulfillment of its promises, trembles at its treats, lives by its standards of conduct, who glories in the cross of Jesus Christ, and believes in the existence of the supernatural.
Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism contains nearly all the standard objections to Christian faith floating around in the hallowed halls of secular education.
Here are some random thoughts on evangelism, apologetics, and witness:
1) There will be times when speaking to unbelievers will feel like pulling teeth. Why? Because too often, the non-Christian thinks they know what Christianity is all about, while in fact, they know next to nothing about the historic Christian faith.
2) Picking up from point 1, remember that ignorance and arrogance often go hand in hand (Yes, I did get that from a Metallica song-years ago-but I have no better way of stating it). Some people think they know it all (including Christian apologists!) and real dialogue cannot take place. Maturity must occur, often in both parties, before eyes are opened and ears are unstopped.
Stay true to the wise words of the Savior, “Do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they turn and trample you.” (click here for a helpful application of this to apologetics)
3) Do make sure that in all evangelizing and commending the faith that you clearly press the point that you’re not merely talking about feeling, or personal preferences. Too often this is exactly how non-Christians hear us. They believe that we’re pig-headed or snobbish. How dare we think that our feelings are more important than those of other religions? Of course, we’re not saying that at all. We’re making comments about the real world and real history. Christianity is the true story of the whole world for the whole world.
4) Be encouraged. When you feel like you’ve wasted all that time you’ve invested- minutes, hours, days and month- is speaking to someone about Christianity, the truth is those moments are never wasted. They always serve God’s purpose, whether in redemption or judgment (cf. 2 Cor. 2:14-16). God’s word never fails to serve it’s intended purposes (Is. 55:11). As James White is fond of saying, “Our job is to proclaim the truth, not to edit it.”
To reject the use of rationality and reason in matters of our faith is known as fideism. Fideism presents our faith as either an irrational thing, or an a-rational thing (i.e. non-rational). No Christian should accept Christianity based on blind faith.
Again, let me be direct, and ask you pointedly: Do we believe the fact that the gospel actually happened in real history even matters? Do you believe that the gospel’s historical nature, the fact that it happened in space-time history, is of any importance to evangelizing?
I’m not saying it is strictly the historical evidence alone that leads a person to faith, but rather understanding that Christianity’s claims are rooted in the real world is an essential element of the gospel, and this is an essential to the Holy Spirit working to bring a person to repentence. After all, if Christ didn’t live, die, resurrect, and ascend to the Father whom do we put our saving faith in? But this isn’t new to you.
Wouldn’t we agree that Paul believed that the historical truth of Christ’s resurrection was of utmost importance? He is the one who said, “…if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and yourfaith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:14). Notice Paul’s order in this sentence, if the resurrection didn’t really happen then your faith is worthless. But, of course, if Christ has been raised, then our faith is precious!
This leads me to another point of tension between our approaches. If someone says that they know Christianity to be true because they feel strongly about it, it proves too much. A Latter-Day Saint may claim that they truly, truly believe that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God, but simply believing it doesn’t make Mormonism true. A Muslim may claim with all their heart that they believe that Mohamed was the prophet of Allah, but this doesn’t make Islam true. Do we agree on this? Now, please don’t misunderstand me, the testimony of the Holy Spirit spoken of in Rom. 8 is vital to Christian certainty. The Holy Spirit testifies to our spirit that the gospel is true. This is a glorious and life-transforming truth. But this testimony confirms the truth to me, not to others. Their faith comes by hearing the gospel itself, the proclamation of the life, death, resurrection, and rule of Jesus the Christ (Rom. 10:13-17). To say that we preach the gospel by doing good deeds (as important as this is for Christian growth) is to misunderstand the meaning of the word gospel. Gospel means goodnews. It is a message to be spoken. Our good deeds attest, uphold, support, and affirm the gospel, but they are not the gospel, and no biblical writer speaks of the gospel in any other way.
The gospel is the proclamation of the life of Jesus, not the benefits that come from faith in Jesus. The peace we have with God (as precious as it is) is not the gospel, it is a result of the gospel. The moment we make the gospel something about us it has become man-centered, and therefore ceases to be about what God has done in Christ.
In conclusion, I’m not advocating a intellectualist religion. I think both are needed, a heart for God and a mind for truth. Your reply sounded a bit to me like you believe that thinking critically is actually opposed to true faith. This sounds like you’re saying that real faith isn’t a thinking faith. As I’ve said above, I believe that both are crucial to evangelism, faith and spiritual growth.
Here is my follow-up letter. I’ll insert a summary of the comment and concerns of my friend to make some sense of my responses:
As Christians we should never separate what God has united: A heart for God and a mind for truth (The RTS motto). Earlier I appealed to biblical examples such as Paul’s example of appealing, persuading, etc., and in response you have reinterpreted the words in a way that works around the point I made. Did Paul “proclaim” the gospel as you’ve said? Of course! “Proclaiming” the gospel can and should be combined with “arguing for,” and persuading people of it’s truth. I don’t use the word reconcile, because I don’t believe that reason, logic, and argument and heart-felt faith need to be reconciled…they aren’t at odds! I don’t define an “argument” as a heated discussion, but rather providing clear reasons for the convictions we hold dear.
Here I respond to my friend’s point that Paul doesn’t appeal to abstract reasoning, but instead Luke records in Acts that Paul reasoned from the Bible itself:
Yes, you’re right, there are several instances in Acts where Paul is “reasoning” from the Scriptures (i.e. evangelizing) with an audience of Jews who are familiar with the Old Testament. On this point you are completely correct and we agree 100% (Acts 13 is a good example of this). But you might also want to take into account Acts 17, where Paul is proclaiming and persuading biblically illiterate pagans of the truth of his Christian worldview. The Bible says that this was Paul’s usual custom (Act 17:2), as he says in 2 Cor. 5:11, “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others” (emphasis mine).
My point is this: logic is not inherently sinful. It is simply the discipline of reasoning clearly and avoiding mistakes in thinking. It can, and must, be used in a God-honoring fashion. Verses you’ve cited about the wisdom of the world (like 1 Cor. 1-2) , etc., are all true, but let’s look at the context. The point Paul is making in all of those verses can be reduced to a few simple points: 1) the truth of the gospel cannot be reduced or explained merely be “fancy-talking” (what Paul calls “persuasive words,” “worldly wisdom,” etc), and 2) unbelievers show their hostility to God by taking a gift that He has given them (the capacity to think) and trying to use it against Him.
Paul says, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Col. 2:8) This verse, though commonly thought to rule out learning philosophy, logic, etc. all together, actually does no such thing. What this verse does do, however, is rule out doing these things when done “not according to Christ.” So, believers should seek to sharpen their reasoning abilities precisely because they seek to honor the Lord who gave them this capacity and whose righteous thinking we are to reflect. Paul tells Christians not be conformed to the world, but transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2), and considering the contexting, Paul is speaking about the doctrines he has been speaking of in the first 11 chapters of Romans. The Pharisees and their ilk didn’t truly reason with Christ, they tried to rationalize their legalism. Big difference. It was bad, flawed, and ungodly thinking and spiritual rebellion that caused them to oppose the sinless Son of God. If we blame it on “logic,” then let’s agree that it was logic “not according to Christ.” Logic is not something man made, but rather reflects the mind of God whose thinking is clear, unified, and without error or confusion.
Is trying to persuade people that Christianity is true a bad thing? Perhaps you have a negative understanding attached to the word persuade that I do not. Jude tells us to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3), Paul instructs Timothy to “correct opponents” (2 Tim. 2:25), that Scripture is profitable for correction and reproof (2 Tim. 3:16), as well as to “reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2). Like to Titus Paul teaches that Elders must “hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it (Titus 1:9),” and that false teaches “must be silenced” (Titus 1:11). All of these verses in the pages of God’s word command us to, at appropriate times, contend are “argue” that the biblical understanding of God, the world, man, sin, Christ, etc. is the correct view. These are biblical passages that must be taken seriously.
Just because unbelievers misuse “logic” (though as I said before, I don’t think it’s the proper use of logic), that doesn’t mean that Christians are disqualified from using it. In fact, again, the line of reasoning that says that if unbelievers had corrupted something then Christians should stay away from it proves much too much. This would mean no longer use music as a means of conveying the gospel because that is also one of the world’s tactics. We are both all too familiar with the type of anti-God music out there. It would also mean that Christians may not longer use theatre, poetry, or allegorical writings because they are all tactics the world (and other religions) use to convey their belief systems. But this is where this line of thinking takes us.
Again, please do not get the impression that I’m advocating a heartless, dry intellectualism. This is not the case. When I seek to hone my thinking, I seek to honor God. I believe with all my heart that Scripture is God’s word, and as a result can stand up to all supposed “intellectual” attacks made by those who oppose His word. I believe that the best thinking shows, demonstrates, coheres with, and is in accordance with everything that we find in the Bible. Do I believe this because I’ve worked out all of the problems and can safely tell unbelievers that there are no challenges? No! I believe in Christ, and all that Scripture teaches because God has revealed them. I believe these things because God has opened my heart, causing me to repent of my sin, and has given me new eyes to see His world. The Holy Spirit has taken the scales off my eyes, shown me the beauty of Christ as the One in whom “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3).
Part 3, coming soon…
With regard to Holy War and things of the like found in Joshua, the New Testament (especially Jesus and Paul) make some important comments. They (nor I) ever repudiate the Old Testament accounts, and instead understand the Holy War motif carrying right over into the New Testament era, so there’s nothing embarrassing about these stories when they aren’t read atomistically. Contrary to what you (and Sam Harris) seem to believe, this doesn’t translate into a bloody massacre of all opponents of Christianity. The Holy War theme transforms in light of the work of Jesus. Paul claims that our true enemies are spiritual forces (“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Eph. 6:12), and how we engage in battle isn’t with spears, swords, guns, missiles, etc (“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments [not people!] and every lofty opinion [not people!] raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought [not persons!] captive to obey Christ…”2 Cor. 10:3-5)
So, why “epochal changes”? Because in distinction from the times of Joshua, Moses, and David, the Kingdom inaugurated by Jesus isn’t localized to one nation. Rather than staying in Jerusalem, the early Christians were told to spread out, starting from Jerusalem, then to Judea, then Samaria, to the uttermost parts of the world. So for example, Paul , following this mandate, made it as far as imperial Rome before he died.
In Romans chapter 13 Paul specifically says that the church does not bear the power of the sword (the way consistent and historical Islam does). This is because Jesus’ kingdom does not find its origin or authority from this world (John 18:36). Instead we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:44). Now, have people professed Christ as Lord and turned these commands on their head? Absolutely. But, as stated, earlier these people are inconsistent with what they claim is their ultimate authority. As John says it, “If we say we have fellowship with [Jesus] while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth“ (1 John 1:6).
The central documents of the Christian faith teach these things, so there’s no need to add “qualifications” to clean up the Old Testament.
Now back to the irony. I said earlier that your reply contains “over-the-top” irony and here’s why I: You accuse Copan, and Christians generally with dodging the tough questions out of “convenience,” yet, in fact, you are the one erecting strawmen and lighting them ablaze. It is convenient to simplify your opponent’s position in order to make it easier to challenge. It is simple and convenient to ignore material provided to you that corrects your errors. It is convenient to dismiss solutions to the problems you raise simply because it demonstrates that the Bible is a more complex and nuanced book than you thought.
These are all simple and positively convenient methods of shooting down your opponents. But here’s the snag: You haven’t begun to touch on a serious Christian approach to the Bible. You’ve successfully constructed and utterly demolished a religion of your own making. You have grossly simplified (and thus warped) Christianity in order to make it an easy target, imposing an Islamic-jihadist grid on it that is utterly antithetical to the New Testament ethic.
In the first post I posted “DMD’s” response to my blog entry on Why Theology is Important, and my reply. Here, I continue with his follow-up and mine as well.
Thanks for your reply, Joseph. Well, you can call it “sound theological and hermeneutical principles”, I rather tend to think it has a far simpler name: convenience.
I started reading the article you mention[ed] and stopped reading for the same reason I stopped reading yours. Convenience. It is convenient to start with “the Bible commands that…”, just as it is to say “they have not handled the biblical texts with proper care, and they often draw conclusions that most Christians (save the theonomistic sorts) would repudiate.”
Because on all accounts, beyond “epochal changes in redemptive history”, it just means forgetting about the embarrassing parts — which I completely understand, though…
Is theology important? I would say yes. It is as important as Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland and [should?] remain on the same shelf. [The] one that reads: fairy tales.
And here are my thoughts:
Thanks again for commenting, but I must admit that I find your comments both disappointing and perplexing. Please allow me a minute to explain why I say this.
First, I’m disappointed because while you asked me a question, you don’t seem open to the idea that Christians can have a genuine, thought-out response that is sound and consistent given the principles of a Christian worldview. I provided you the article by Copan and you admitted to having dismissed his response without finishing the piece. Did you actually want a reponse or not?
Second, I’m perplexed by your response because of its over-the-top irony. The chief objection you’ve shared is that you believe that Christians are arbitrary in their handling of the Bible. Now, of course, this is true of many individuals. There are Christians who, consciously or not, pick and choose what they recognize as authorative in the Bible. But, Christian orthodoxy has always rejected such an approach. People from all walks and philosophies of life are inconsistent with their deepest guiding principles, atheists, Christians, and agnostics alike. The real question is regarding the nature of consistent Christianity.
So now, consistently speaking, Christians have always acknowledged a radical change in history since the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, one that transforms how we read all that came before Him. This isn’t an arbitrary interpretative principle of Christians, but rather the very heart of the Christian faith. It’s not a grid imposed onto Scripture, but rather is embedded in the Bible itself. Paul, reflecting on the Old Testament says, “For Christ is the end [Grk: Telos- goal, or purpose] of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:4), and that the gospel of Jesus was “promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scripture” (Rom. 1:2). Paul also taught that all of the promises made to Abraham (all the way back in Genesis 12) are fulfilled in Jesus. Likewise, Luke, in the Gospel by his name, records Jesus as saying to his disciples, “‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled’” (Lk. 24:44). This threefold ordering was the ancient summary of the entire Old Testament (today known as the Law, Prophets, and the Writings).
Now, this isn’t an argument for believing the content of these passages or that their claims are true. But it is an argument for acknowledging that the Bible teaches “epochal changes.” God’s dealings with humankind have transformed through the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth, and this is right at the center of what’s new about the New Covenant (see especially Galatians 3, and the book of Hebrews). These passages have been sitting right there in the Bible for 2,000 years, and not something added later for the purpose of solving hermeneutical difficulties.
Next, we’ll wrap up by looking at the nature of warfare in the New Covenant.
I was interested by the question, but unfortunately, I stopped reading when my eyes [landed] on “[…] the question of theology’s importance is that the Bible commands that we “do” theology”.The bible commands you to all sorts of brutal, inhumane, immoral acts. Are you obliging? I’m pretty sure you’re not, which should be reassuring, I imagine.
In short order (because Paul Copan addresses much of this issue so well), I’d direct your attention to his article, “Is Yahweh a Moral Monster?” published in Philosophia Christi, but also available online here.
I fear that behind your statements and question is a misleadingly synchronic reading of Scripture that doesn’t take into consideration the epochal changes in redemptive history that nearly all Christians take for granted when reading the Bible (whether they are able to articulate a sophisticated theory of these epochal changes or not).
No Christian reads the book of Joshua, for example, and believes that the more “controversial” commands of the book are literally normative for all time. No one. And it’s not an arbitrary “cutting up” of the Bible, but based on sound theological and hermeneutical principles.
The Loss of Meaning and Truth. One hundred years ago the development and expansion in industrialization promised a new technological world in which almost nothing would be impossible for the modern man. Advances in science and medicine only confirmed these hopes. The all encompassing vision of the Enlightenment was thought to provide a unified worldview that, with time, would outshine religious faith and usher in a secular utopia. For many, these hopes were crushed in the light of two World Wars. If the Enlightenment project has shown itself to be a dismal failure, how can we place our trust in my all-embracing vision of life? What if we’re all wrong? Who are we to claim we have the truth? And if there is no absolute Truth (with a capital “T”) then maybe we’re all free to create our own truths. From here it’s only a short jump to deny that truth or meaning can be conveyed through language (as many of the more radical deconstructionists have done).
I encountered this very problem during one encounter during my college days. It was the beginning of my junior year and I was in the library having a conversation with a new friend. A few minutes into our discussion in entered a familiar face from around campus, we’ll call him Jackie. I don’t recall how the discussion shifted, but soon all three of us were talking about philosophy and the power of language. It was then that Jackie expressed his belief that words aren’t a proper vehicle to carry meaning. At first I was a bit alarmed, though I tried not to let it show. I warned Jackie that if what he was saying turned out to be correct we could then interpret someone else’s words however we’d like, making them say whatever we wanted. To my surprise, Jackie was consistent, claiming that this was exactly his point; we can interpret texts and people in however manner we’d like to!
I found this entire episode ironic, especially considering all the words we were using! So I tried one last tactic. As our dialogue was coming near to its end, I thanked Jackie for sharing with us and told him hat I was relieved that we saw things eye to eye after all. To this he replied, “What do you mean?” I explained that we both agreed that words are an imperfect but sufficient vehicle to convey meaning and truth. “But I don’t believe that, that’s your view,” Jackie replied. He was now exactly where I wanted him. “If your position is right,” I said, “then I can use your words to say whatever I want to hear. And I’ve decided that you believe exactly what I believe. That is your position, correct?” Jackie wasn’t amused. I recall him taking off while muttering “You don’t understand…” under his breath. I thought my point had been made. No matter how loudly we protest to the opposite, we all assume that truth exists and language, to some measure, can sufficiently capture it.
Jackie’s case is not unique. What was particularly tragic in this case that we both attended a Christian college! For whatever the reason-and I’m not pointing fingers-he wasn’t hearing solid, Christian responses. In his own worlds he was receiving nothing but pat answers, slogans that really dismissed his struggles rather than addressing them directly. The loss of confidence in meaning and truth is a huge barrier from those who claim to know truth incarnate (cf. John 14:6).
It’s happened to all who try to seriously provide answers to skeptics. And it’s one of the hardest things an apologist can (akin to a professional scholar saying, “I was wrong.”). These three words are hard, but often times necessary to utter. Here it is, “I-Don’t-know.” These three simply words can signal either defeat or something else. I propose that ending a conversion at this point isn’t the death of apologetics, but can in fact be the birth of long term dialogue with a non-Christian friend. Here are a common of reasons that I think this is the case.
1) Admitting ignorance in some cases reinforces a spirit of dialogue with a person, rather than mere confrontation. After all, we aren’t gurus. We aren’t the source of truth, we only point the way. And often times, we need others to help us get there as well.
2) Picking up from the first point, our knowledge of God, scripture, etc., should be a natural development in the process of our sanctification. As we grow in our love and devotion toward God, so our knowledge of Him and His ways grows. But, since this process isn’t over in this lifetime, then neither is the process of our learning.
3) Saying “I don’t know” may serve to honor the fact that Christianity is lived by faith (a personal trust in who and what God is), rather than merely solving all of the “riddles” and questions that we have. The moment we reduce “true” faith to intellectual sophistication, we’ve sold the farm to the gnostics (and that’s bad news).