Posted in Worldview Analysis

Apologetics Session 5: Thinking about Worldview in Apologetics

Establish the need: What is a worldview? And what does it matter? Purpose: We will look at four focus to help us think about worldview in apologetics…

Apologetics Session 5: Thinking about Worldview in Apologetics

Really appreciated this breakdown of worldviews: What they are and how they operate, as well as, how the Christian should interact with them. I’m hoping you all will to. God Bless.

Posted in certainty

The Dirty Word Called Certainty

All knowledge claims are based upon a standard. A foundation from which the rest of cohesive thoughts and beliefs are formed. The question the thinker must ask himself/herself is: By what standard? What is the standard from which we claim to know things? Is this standard personal? That is, is it seated in the heart/mind of the individual in question? Then it is by its very nature subjective.  For what one person holds to be true, will not necessarily be what the next person in line clings to as truth.

For the skeptic the best solution is to deconstruct all knowledge claims to the truly unknowable. If knowledge can be shown to be self-imploding due to its personal, and therefore relative in nature status (different strokes for different folks), then it is not possible—it will be argued—for any one to really know anything for certain.

A Dirty Word…

And since certainty is viewed as a dirty word (in both Christian/non-Christian circles), the accepted premise is that certainty cannot, should not be claimed by anyone. Revisionists say that we cannot really know what has taken place in the past for certain, because of the biased nature of the authors of history. Therefore, it is the pursuit of the revisionist to rewrite the “true account” of what transpired in the past apart from any partisan notion of the events recorded. Eyewitnesses are mocked, either they didn’t really see what they professed to see, or they were confused because they were intellectually inferior, or they were blinded by their own biases, and therefore, self-serving notions of what transpired.  

What the deconstructionist and the revisionist seek to do (and yes, they are both playing the same game) is offer their form of a rescuing device[i] in order to salvage what their own biased desires—based on what they perceive is true—believe (i.e., will acknowledge) as truth. What they want to deny, due to their own skepticism and desire for autonomous reasoning (including knowledge, truth and belief) is to establish their own set standard. To hold all others to a standard of knowing that they in fact will deny is possible if it disagrees with their own biased certainty of fact.

A Notable Difference…

For the Christian the standard should be markedly different. The same question is asked: By what standard? The same standard is applied in the sense of whether or not this standard provides proper justification (i.e., reasons) for belief. But the difference (at least it ought to be this way) is in the nature of the standard itself.

The standard or foundation on which the Christian stands is outside himself/herself. Since it is impossible for a human being to truly know anything, because without knowing everything you cannot really be certain of anything. The Christian humbly submits to the Law-Word of God.

The Christian identifies with the fact that true knowledge and wisdom is not personally sourced in the heart/mind of man, but personally sourced in the mind/heart of God the Creator.  For in Christ are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge found (Col 2.3). Knowledge may be known, truth may be known, correct belief may be known because it is dependent upon the One who knows all things (Psa 94.7-11) and holds all things together by the power of His Word (Psa 75.3; Eccl 8.4; Heb 1.3).

What I cannot and can understand…

I am often confused by professing Christians that say “I could be wrong about Jesus,” or “I could be wrong about my faith.” I am perplexed by men who claim to offer a sound apologetic (i.e., defense or reasoned answer) for the supposed hope with in them, when out of their mouths, in the very next breath, they say “Noooo…[I’m not certain!]”[ii]

William Lane Craig and Lawrence Karauss debate on “Life, the Universe and Nothing: Why is there Something rather than Nothing”

If a person is an unbeliever, I can understand that claim. They argue that life is a cosmic accident; although, I will grant that some do it a bit more eloquently than others. They deny that there is an all-sufficient creator of all things. They deny that He sovereignly directs the affairs of people. They deny that there is One who will hold all creation accountable and deal out justice in the end. But the basis of their “uncertainty” is they cannot know everything. And in this, they are right.

A Question of Dependency…

None of us can know everything. “Well, then you cannot be certain about your Christian faith!” it is sometimes argued. This would be true if my knowledge was based on my limited abilities, but it’s not. My knowledge is dependent upon the One who does know everything. Therefore, my certainty is on HIM and of that I am absolutely certain. To suppose that “certainty” is a word that Christians should steer clear from, when you yourself are a professed Christian supposedly helping others in their faith, reveals not only your inconsistency and your doubts, but an area of sinful thought that you need to repent of.

God’s Word on Certainty and a Message to fellow Christian Witnesses

“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2.36; emphasis added).[iii]

The Greek term for certain (asphalos; adv.) describes the action of “knowing.” It is used elsewhere in Scripture to speak of holding something “securely” (Acts 16.23), kept “under guard” (Mark 14.44). Knowledge that is placed in a lockbox of sorts that may be clung to without deviation because it cannot be moved.

Thus, we should be surprised when the writer of Hebrews claims that as believers, we ought to

“…confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help” (Heb 4.16; NET; emphasis added).

How can we confidently approach Christ Jesus who is the embodiment of God’s grace and mercy given to us who believe, unless we “know for certain” that He exists and intercedes on the behalf of His people (cf. Heb 11.6; 13.6)? Do we find the apostles of Jesus weak kneed before the world? Do we find them floundering with doubts, pretending that “knowing for certain” that Jesus is the Christ, that all things were created through Him, by Him and for Him and that in Him all things hold together (Col 1.15-16) may not be so? That they could be wrong?

Are they seemingly only 80-85% positive[iv] that Jesus rose from the grave according to the Scripture, having died for the iniquity of His people according to the Scripture (1Cor 15.1-4; Isa 53)?  Do they not boldly stand before rulers and synagogues, and people from many tribes and tongues, worshipers of many gods and goddesses to be Christ’s witness (cf. Luke 21.12-13; Mark 13.9-10) and declare that now is the time to repent, that judgment is coming, and that salvation is provided in any other name than Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 17.30; 4.12)?

They do stand there boldly, unashamed before people, “knowing for certain” that the Scriptures are true and all men are liars (cf. Rom 3.4). They boldly and confidently stand in opposition to an unbelieving culture and point them to the only hope of deliverance—Jesus Christ (Acts 4.12cf. Rom 3.19-25). If you proclaim that you are an apologist, if you say it is your duty to speak for Christ, if you profess with your mouth and believe in your heart that He is Lord over all and has died for your sins (Rom 10.8-13), then for the LOVE OF GOD stand assured in the faith once for all given to the saints (Jude 3)!

Be certain of what you profess. Stand and do not bow to the masses. Know your God and speak! Know your God and live! And if you cannot bring yourself to stand in the gap in such a fashion before the culture that you now live in…do yourself and others a favor…be quiet and sit down.

“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3.1).

And while, you may stand before the Lord in salvation because He saves youyou do not save yourself—your works that were not built upon the true foundation with the precious materials that He has provided you, will be burned up in the fire (1Cor 3.15). In short, stop lauding doubt as a virtue and be certain of your belief.


ENDNOTES:

[i] Jason Lisle writes, “There is always a rescuing device to explain away contrary evidence. If people have faulty presuppositions, they may not be convinced no matter how good the evidence may be.” Jason Lisle, The Ultimate Proof of Creation: Resolving the Origins debate (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2009), 159.

Lisle’s point is that a person may find an argument logically sound, but due to the unsatisfying implications necessarily drawn from the argument will search for grounds to dismiss it. In the end, a rescuing device is employed when an argument is emotionally and psychologically disturbing. You might think of it as worldview self defense in order to stave off something perceived as harmful.

[ii] This snippet was provided by Captain Disquise, March 10, 2014. Time stamped: 102:36–102:50. The whole debate may be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V82uGzgoajI

[iii] All Scripture is of the English Standard Version (ESV) unless otherwise noted.

[iv] Michael Licona confessed to saying in the past that he was “80% Christianity is true…[but] a little more now.”

The snippet was originally taken from Alpha & Omega Ministries podcast the “Dividing Line” with Dr. James White. I’m not sure where the original sound bit is from. Dr. White may have mentioned it, but I might have missed it. Honestly, I’m not surprised by Licona’s testimony here as he was a guest speaker (lecturer) for about a week at Luther Rice Seminary where I have earned a couple of degrees. I also have his book that he did with Gary Habermas entitled “The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus,” where this attitude is expressed though not necessarily verbalized with percentage points. You can watch the video and make of it what you will. Michael Licona, Certainty and Assurance, Aug 30th 2019.

Posted in Apologetics

Evidence & Arrogance: Two Strange Bedfellows

I’ll probably get myself in trouble for saying this, but it needs to be said. It isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last time either. But much of Christian apologetics is a joke. Not the LOL (laugh out loud) variety, but the kind that is prefaced by an underlying arrogance.

“Arrogance, what do you mean?”

An arrogance that assumes we are smarter than the God who created us, knit us together in our mother’s wombs, and has offered sound guidance and instruction for our lives. The true God, the Lord of Heaven and earth who gives us good gifts providing for our needs. “In Him we live, move and breath,” for He sustains us by the power of His Word. He has marked our beginning, and He has established our end. All things have been set in place by Him, and all history unfolds according to the purpose of His good will.

But you laugh, you smirk, you say in your hearts “if that’s the kind of God over me, then I don’t want Him. A micromanager, an overlord who plans my steps? No thank you, very much. That’s not a loving, good God in my book.”

No doubt you have heard it said, “A little honey attracts bees.” Better to speak in flowery overtones, and butter people up massaging their already inflated egos, than a smack in the face. The fact is, whether we like it or not, we sometimes need smacked:

“Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it” (Psa 141.5; cf. Prov 27.5-6).[i]

So, what is this arrogance that I speak of rooted in the hearts of many would be Christian apologists? It is found in this mantra being bled from multiple sources: Evidence, evidence, evidence.

No, they are not gathered singing this repeatedly over and over again to some enchanting melody (at least not that I am aware of). But it is the tune of the Pied Piper that they prefer.

Am I saying that “evidence is not beneficial?” Or that “evidence is a waste of time?” Or that “evidence needs to be thrown out the window like a baby’s bathwater?” No, absolutely not. “Then, how can you say it is arrogance to exalt evidence?” you ask. (Oh, how I do love an observant reader!)

The Problematic Error…

The problem is not with the evidence in and of itself, but the way in which many professing Christian apologists use it. The error is couched in phrases like these:

  • “Faith is based on evidence.”
  • “Given enough evidence and time and a rational person who is honest will more than likely believe.”
  • “Follow the evidence and see where it leads”
  • “Evidence can lead you to the truth”

“What’s wrong with those statements?” Do you mean besides the fact that they are littered with wrong assumptions and irrational conclusions?

Evidence or brute facts do not lead. Look at this rock, what does it say? Oh, right it doesn’t speak! “So how do you know where it is leading?” You don’t, well it doesn’t. It just sits there and your draw interpretations based off a variety of observations that are either real or imagined. There is not a piece of evidence, brute fact or otherwise that is not interpreted. And your interpretation is drawn from various ideas that you have already assumed about the nature of reality (the seen and the unseen).

Nor is your faith based on evidence. That is not to say that faith and evidence do not relate to one other. They are vitally related, but if you are a Christian your faith is not based on evidence. Pay Attention! Try not to get lost in the weeds of your own thoughts here. I said “based on the evidence,” which means “founded on the evidence.” The foundation of the Christian faith is not evidence: “That is not how you learned Christ!” (Eph 4.20).

“Yes, but what about Christ’s resurrection? That is a vital piece of evidence that makes or breaks the faith!” you retort.

Folly Laden Stumbling Block…

Makes or breaks the faith for who? You or the unbeliever? Let it be said that the Resurrection is a pivotal piece of evidence for the Christian faith, no two ways about it. I do not deny it! But let it also be said (and please turn on your ears for this), the Cross of Christ which entails the Resurrection of Christ is a “stumbling block” and utter “folly” to the non-believer.

If you are a Christian, do you dare deny it? If you do not deny it, do you embrace it?

Herein lies the arrogance of what I speak. Christ says, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16.31; cf. Matt 28.16). But you say, “Ah…that’s just a parable, you can’t take it literally.”

What do you mean? I can’t take it according to the literature, which is what literal means? Or I’m not to take the Lord’s words here at face value because of the figurative nature of a parable? Parable’s are taken from real life applications, but when it comes to Christ’s words here when he has refuted his enemies, I am somehow to be dissuaded from believing His argument? “Which is what precisely?” you might ask yourselves. That people who fail to believe the Word of God[ii] on spiritual and earthly matters will not be convinced even if a dead person were to arise from the dead!

Which, by the way we see happened in Jesus’ day at the raising of Lazarus (cf. John 11). Four days in the tomb and then coming out alive only convinced a small number of the witnesses, for others ran to the Jewish authorities due to their unbelief. But hey, what does the Lord of Glory really know.

The Problematic Error Up-close…

The problem with an “evidence first approach” is that it refuses to listen to what God has to say, all the while assuming that YOU know better than HE. “How so?” By denying what the Bible clearly teaches. Faith in God, in Christ, in the gospel is not an intellectual issue, but a spiritual one. These things are “spiritually discerned,” and so it makes little sense to wax eloquent with lofty speech rather than to proclaim the Word of Christ, through which faith comes. Notice that the Bible says the means (or the vehicle) for bringing faith is through the Word of God (i.e. Moses and the Prophets) and not evidence. Evidence without the proper interpretative grid leads down a road to nowhere (cf. Luke 24.13-27).

Thus, the words of the late Greg L. Bahnsen are noteworthy:


“Scripture itself should be enough to dissuade a person from depending upon evidential arguments…God’s word makes clear that man’s rebellion against the truth is morally, not intellectually rooted. The sinner needs a changed heart and Spiritually opened eyes, not more facts and reasons…The only tool an apologete needs is the word of God, for the sinner will either presuppose its truth and find Christianity to be coherent and convincing (given his spiritual condition and past experience) or he will reject it and never be able to come to the knowledge of the truth…

Although evidence has a part in the Christian apologetic, it is not the pivotal foundational part…our central defense of the faith had better be made of stronger stuff.”[iii]


Lest, it be said that I am guilty of arguing ad hominen (i.e. against the man) I will remind the reader that though this charge of arrogance is laid at the feet of the would be Christian apologist who turns a  blind eye to the truth, my position is against the method of argumentation and not necessarily the individual in question. However, the shoe fits, if you continue to wear it while ignoring what your Lord has commanded.

Pride rears its ugly head when we get so puffed up with “knowledge” and “wisdom” that we go beyond what the Scriptures teach (1Cor 4.6). By the way this isn’t speaking about knowledge and wisdom that comes from humble submission to God’s Word. Rather it speaks of the person who thinks they know better than God. In case your wondering what that looks like, take a gander back at the beginning and you’ll see where that folly got us (cf. Gen 3).

Until next time, I bid you all farewell…

ENDNOTES:

[i] All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).

[ii] This is what the phrase “Moses and the Prophets” refers to in Jewish thinking. There are several similar phrases found in the Bible that point the reader to the entire canon of Scripture. For the 1st century Jew this “Moses and the Prophets” would entail all that God had thus far revealed to the Hebrew nation.  Similar to our modern-day expressions of “Word of God,” “Holy Writ,” the “Holy Bible,” the “Scriptures,” etc.

[iii] Greg L. Bahnsen, “The Impropriety of Evidentially Arguing for the Resurrection,” PA003 Synapse II, Westminster Seminary, (January, 1972), http://www.cmfnow.com/article/pa003.htm.

Posted in Apologetics

The Wisdom of the Babbler gives Meaning to the Cross of Christ and the Resurrection of our Lord

When Paul was in Athens (read Acts 17.16-34), as was his common practice, he reasoned from the Scriptures to prove Jesus as the Christ. The very thing he did in Thessalonica and in Berea, he did everywhere he went. Scripture tends to give brief summaries of what was said by the apostle, rather than his entire dialogue. However, what is revealed to us is that the heart of his message was Jesus.  The gospel of God focuses on, and finds its being and purpose in, the good-news of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, the Son of Man, the great I AM.

It was always Paul’s contention to preach “Christ crucified” (1Cor 2.2), and to focus on the judgment of all found in our Lord’s resurrection (Acts 17.30-31). Apart from which, the Christian faith is meaningless. However, the converse is also true—the cross of Christ and the resurrection of our Lord (i.e. empty tomb) are only meaningful to believers. This is clearly explained by the very apostle we find in Athens preaching (Acts 17.16-34), which was the content of a previous post (The Apostle Paul the Babbling Beggar).

Listen to his own testimony…

  • “For Christ… [sent me] to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1Cor 1.17-18; NIV).

Paul admits that the cross of Christ is powerless (i.e. emptied of its power) when divorced from the wisdom of God. True wisdom is sourced in God (Psa 111.10), from which all knowledge comes (Prov 2.6-8; Col 2.3). Not, the philosophy of fallen human beings.

Paul says that this idea is crazy and devoid of meaning (i.e. foolish) to those who are perishing. Who are the ones who are perishing? Those who are not in Christ. The apostle makes a needed distinction between those who are perishing and those who are not; the ones who are not perishing are the people who have been saved by the power of God.

It is not the wisdom of man that saves a man, but the power of God who saves the man.

  • “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe” (1Cor 1.21).

I know what you’re thinking, “God…saves those who believe!” Absolutely right! This is true, but before you do the victory lap, ask and answer the following question: “How?”

How is it that you believed, if the rest of the world did not? Since they view the cross of Christ and the resurrection of our Lord as utter foolishness? To the unbeliever the gospel of Jesus was not good news, but insanely moronic news. So how are you, a member of this world, a believer? Why did you find the cross of Christ and the resurrection of the Lord not foolish?

Paul answers that question if you’d keep reading:

  • “but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1Cor 1.24; italics added).

Those who have been chosen, or appointed, or elected by God—both Jews and Greeks—Paul says, identify the work of Christ, the grace afforded to us as the power and wisdom of God. The emphasis is on what has been done for us. It is by God’s power that we are saved in Christ, that we enjoy the fruits of being delivered from sin.

The very truth we find him proclaiming at the end of the first chapter, saying “God chose…so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus…Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord” (vv.28-31; summarized the emphatic points).  Our being “in Christ,” Paul explains in another place, is due to the action of God—i.e. an expression of His will and purpose—in accordance with “the riches of [His] grace that he lavished on us” (Eph 1.8a; cf. vv.3-12).

Therefore, Paul “resolved to know nothing…except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1Cor 2.2). Rather than appealing to some other standard to show the validity and veracity of the gospel, the apostle’s message was “not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirits power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power” (1Cor 2.4b-5).

Human wisdom leads up a dead-end road. This is demonstrated in Jesus’ crucifixion at Golgotha. For “none of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1Cor 2.8; emphasis added). But they did, because the message of the cross of Christ and His resurrection is spiritually discerned, and man left to His own abilities is not able (cf. 1Cor 2.14).

WHY ALL OF THIS TALK? THE RESURRECTION

A common assumption is made that all we need to do is preach Jesus’ resurrection today. If we can get people to see the truth of the resurrection of Jesus, then people will believe. Andy Stanley, who has adopted the mindset of Norman Geisler, William Lane Craig, and many other significant Christian leaders, believes that if we can tether our message to the resurrected Jesus—i.e. the empty tomb—then that is all that is really needed.

Show them this evidence historically, apart from direct or sustained appeals to the Bible (we don’t want to get in any of those unnecessary biblical questions like inerrancy, etc!), and people will believe.

Besides the fact that the cross and resurrection of our Lord are meaningless apart from biblical testimony, many Christian leaders believe they have found a better way. Even though the very Lord they profess to believe in says it can’t be done, they have convinced themselves, “Oh, yes it can!” Interesting…um, who has the authority to say what can and can’t be done? I was pretty sure calling Jesus Lord settles that issue: “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16.31; ESV).[i] “Yeah, but that’s a parable,” individuals like Stanley claim, as if that settles the matter.

“Oh! It’s a parable…Ah, I see that makes it…what less meaningful? Less true? Jesus you idiot! You taught people with parables rather than just saying it. Had you just said it, that would have been better. Then people would know that you were speaking truthfully, not figuratively.”

Is that what you think? Is that how you deal with the wisdom writings in the Bible? They use figurative language (poetic language even!) and so we can’t take them literally.

  • Person 1 says, “Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink.” And then explains to Person 2, “You can’t drink the water fella, its no good. Either its poisoned by minerals or by decaying bodies, by either way its not safe to quench your thirst.”
  • Person 2 responds, “Well, you spoke figuratively there, so you must be wrong. I can’t take that literally.”

Now you may think I’m being a bit ridiculous, but the truth is many use those type of arguments all the time to get around what the Bible teaches on a given subject. It is true that figurative language is symbolic. But it is equally true that if you understand the symbols you can derive the true meaning of what is being said.

Jesus’ meaning is pretty clear: If people refuse to repent when they have heard the Word of God—by the way “Moses and the Prophets” is a figure of speech meaning the O.T.—then they will not believe even if someone has risen from the grave. It is not until the power of God has been demonstrated in the life of the individual in question by the Holy Spirit’s regenerating activity that spiritual truths make sense and are, consequently, embraced.

LETS HEAD BACK TO ATHENS

When Paul was in Athens, he proclaimed the cross of Christ and our Lord’s resurrection. The intellectually wise, the best that Athens could offer, called him a gutter-sparrow; a moronic babbler of strange deities. In so doing, they claimed he was a fool and they were wise. He didn’t understand the nature of reality, the truth of things, but they did. And yet, they were the ones confused over the truth. They were the one’s demonstrated to be steeped in ignorance[ii], though they mockingly laughed in derision at the apostle’s claims (Act 17.32).

However, what is laid out before us in Acts 17:16-34 is a demonstration of the power of God at work in the hearts of fallen people. For as Paul was seen leaving (Acts 17.33), some followed: “But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them” (Acts 17.34; ESV).

On that day God called (chose/elected/appointed) one of the members of the Areopagus to new life, even a woman of evidently some repute, as well as others who were not named nor numbered. Paul was wiser than the wisest men that the world had to offer, and he expressed this wisdom not by appealing to men with evidences divorced from Scripture, but evidences rooted in Scripture from which their true meaning is derived.

Had the approach from popular Christian apologists, pastors, theologians, etc. of which Stanley is an advocate, been advanced by Paul two things would have occurred. First, he would have denied what he had set out to prove in 1Cor 1-2 that faith in the cross and resurrection of Christ is spiritually discerned. Belief is brought about by a demonstration of God’s powerful wisdom, not man’s. Second, he would have dishonored Christ and His Word by assuming that some other standard would have been on par with the Spirit’s testimony.

Notice that I didn’t say faith in Christ wouldn’t have come about as a possible result. While, our methods may at times dishonor our Lord, His divine purposes still see the light of day. Our God can strike a straight blow with a crooked stick, just look at how He used sinful men and women in the past to bring about what He had formerly intended.

That truth, however, does not remove our responsibility to using His wisdom and knowledge instead of our own.

ENDNOTES:

[i]       When Jeff Durbin tried to prove his point to Andy Stanley in their debate on “Unbelievable” Stanley’s go to was “well, that’s a parable….” This a common rescuing device used by those who desire to skate by uncomfortable passages of Scripture that infringe upon their own preconceived ideas.

[ii]      Before the Areopagus—the gathering of the intellectually elite in Athens—Paul points out their ignorance. They had mocked him in the market saying, “You ignorant fool.” And yet, when he begins his defense of the Christian faith, he points out that they are in fact the ignorant ones, “What therefore you worship as unknown [i.e. in ignorance], this I proclaim to you” (Acts 17.23b).  How often have we read this passage and passed over this gentle rebuke of Athenian wisdom by Paul?

Posted in Apologetics

Debate over the use of Evidence in Christian Witnessing: the Cross and Resurrection of Christ

Not too long ago (sometime back in May) Andy Stanley and Jeff Durbin, two notable pastors with their own perspective ministries, had a dialogue on the Premiere Christian radio program Unbelievable, with Justin Brierley (here). One of the primary focuses of the discussion dealt with apologetic methodologies. At one point during the interchange Stanley challenged Durbin with the following statement: “I’m tying this [i.e. the Christian faith] specifically to the resurrection…why do you believe what you believe?” Durbin’s response was immediate: “Because of the Word of the Living God.” If you watch the video you will notice that Stanley distorts his face a bit. It appears he didn’t appreciate Durbin’s rationale.

For Stanley (and others who share his mindset), the Christian faith stands or falls in regards to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. William Lane Craig admits as much in a debate he had with Gerd Ludemann, agreeing with his opponent that “the resurrection of Jesus is the central point of the Christian religion.”i

I have listened to this approach many times, and a constant refrain is given to Paul’s statement in 1Cor 15 about the vanity of the Christian faith if Christ has not been raised:

  • And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith…if Christ has not been raised, our faith is futile…” (1Cor 15.14, 17a).

What Paul says in 1Cor 15 is absolutely true. If Jesus did not rise from the grave; if He did not ascend to the Father’s right hand; if He is not seated on His throne in Heaven ruling all creation; then, our faith as Christians is utterly meaningless. “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead…” (1Cor 15.20a), as Paul states.

J.P. Moreland writes,

  • We see examples of apologetics everywhere in Scripture. In Acts, Paul argued, reasoned, presented evidence, and tried rationally to persuade others to become Christians (Acts 14:15-17; 17:2-4, 16-31; 18.4) …[Likewise,] Jesus Christ Himself regularly engaged in logical debate and rational argument with false, destructive ideologies in His culture, and on several occasions He told people to believe in Him, not simply on the basis of His Word, but because of the evidence of His miracles.”ii

In other words, don’t just take our word for it. In fact, don’t just take what we claim is God’s Word as the basis for truth (i.e. the Bible), but listen to the evidence. Look at the evidence. Follow the evidence. And as Moreland argues, Jesus and Paul were just following the methodology of the prophets. They “regularly…appealed to evidence to justify belief in the biblical God or in the divine authority of their inspired message….”iii

LIMITED REASONABLENESS

Evidences are important, but they are limited in their usefulness. The Achilles heel of all evidential approachesiv is the standard one uses to interpret their meaning. You may have heard it said, “Follow the evidence,” “Let the evidence speak for itself,” etc., but the truth is evidence must always be interpreted. How one interprets the evidence is determined by the authoritative standard they submit to.

I find that many Christians I speak to have a hard time understanding this. The reason is that they have had encounters where evidence was presented by party “A” to party “B,” and party “B” who are formerly in disagreement has been persuaded to take the position of party “A.” Let me give a quick illustration to help you see what I am saying.

The Pricing Debate…

Sally comes over to your house and says, “Hey, you wanna grab a bite to eat?” Your stomach has been growling for about a half-an-hour, so you don’t need much convincing. You’re starving, but your funds are limited, so you say “Sure, what place did you have in mind?” Sally, who has been craving a nice juicy cheeseburger and fries says “What about Five Guys”? I hear they have really good food, and I’ve been wanting to try it for a while now.” “Five Guys! Man, I heard they are really expensive…you know, a’ la carte and all. I really don’t have much money. Why not McDonald’s?” you respond.

A debate then ensues between You and Sally. How can Sally set Your mind at ease? If we were Sally we’d probably get a copy of the menu offline, and then compare prices. If she told you that a cheeseburger at that restaurant was the same size and price as the Quarter Pounder at McD’s, and then presented the evidence to you, you’d probably change your mind. Isn’t that a wonderful example of the presenting the evidence to win over an unbeliever? Seems like it doesn’t it.

Let’s think this through…

Now take a step back a minute, and think about why this approach worked. You changed your mind when Sally showed you the menu from Five Guys and compared with McDonald’s. You saw the evidence and adopted Sally’s position. Why? Because you both accepted the standard. You both looked at the menu from the restaurant as authoritative on prices. You were able to come to the right conclusion because you submitted to what was presented to you.

The problem is that approach does not work with spiritual truths, of which the resurrection of Jesus Christ is one. That is precisely Paul’s point in 1Cor 1-2, which we I shall address in my next article. But, for a moment consider the Christian claim regarding the resurrection. Are we able to separate it from the rest of the Christian system of faith? Not if we want to make sense of it!

As powerful a piece of evidence that the resurrection of Jesus truly is, it is utterly meaningless apart from the biblical testimony. What do you prove, if you can show that Jesus was raised from the grave historically? What have you done if you can show that a supposed majority of scholars accept your claim, other than ride dangerously close to the fallacious appeal to majority? Not much.

THE GLAZED OVER PROBLEM

There is an inherent problem with this popular apologetic approach. Where one points to Christ’s resurrection, and then attempts to prove it on mere evidential grounds (historical, psychological, etc.). The cross of Christ and the resurrection of our Lord are absolutely meaningless divorced from the context in which these truths have been formed.

Apart from Scripture, the claim that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, was crucified on a Roman cross and physically raised from the grave is nonsensical. Every statement that Christian’s profess about this man and His ministry is steeped in theological content. Just look….

Take for instance the name Jesus (Yeshua), that is not just a name but a name with profound meaning: “Yahweh saves” (cf. Matt 1.21; Isa 45.21-22). Or, what about the name of his city (Nazareth), which appears to come from the Hebrew word for branch an allusion to Isa 11:1 (cf. Matt 2.23). Christ (Christos) is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Messiah (mashiyach) and it means the anointed one of God—prophet, priest, and kings in the O.T., a general reference, but a specific reference to the rightful ruler of all (cf. Gen 49.10; Matt 2.2-6; Mic 5.2; 1Sam 2.10). The Roman cross also has weighty significance in that it represents the curse of God upon the one who hangs upon it; necessary, since Jesus is said to take the curse of His people upon Himself as a substitute (cf. Deut 21.22-23; Gal 3.13; also see Isa 53). And let us not forget the resurrection, of which Paul refers to and gives true meaning to Christian hope in Acts 17:16-34 (cf. Acts 2.24-32; Isa 26.19; Hos 13.14).

How can one preach Christ crucified, proclaiming the cross and the resurrection apart from biblical truths that give contextual meaning to the extraordinary event that Stanley and those like him speak about? The answer? You can’t, not consistently at least. The popularity of the approach does not make it biblical.

Forthcoming: The Wisdom of the Babbler gives meaning to the Cross of Christ and the Resurrection of our Lord

ENDNOTES:

iPaul Copan and Ronald K. Tacelli, Jesus’ Resurrection Fact or Figment: A Debate between William Lane Craig & Gerd Ludemann (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 31.

 

iiJ. P. Moreland, Love Your God With All Your Mind: the Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul, Rev. ed. (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress [1997] 2012), 149.

 

iiiIbid, 149.

 

ivThis includes Classical and Evidential uses of evidences in apologetic dialogue. All methodologies that start with the evidence in a fashion that cuts ties with biblical revelation are guilty of this approach.