Rethinking Modern Apologetics

I recently read Eric Metaxas’s article “Science Increasingly Makes the Case For God.” If you have not read it yet, I highly encourage it. Metaxas always has an interesting way of writing in a simplistic manner that the common layperson can understand. As it turns out, Old Testament scholar Peter Enns was not so thrilled with the conclusions Metaxas came to. I enjoy Enns’s writings (if you have not read The Bible Tells Me So, I highly recommend it), but I do have my fair share of disagreements with him. I found Enns’s response compelling, but I feel there is a greater issue at hand that is often unaddressed.

My Analysis of the Discussion

Metaxas simply reinstates the fine-tuning argument for the existence of God. This is a more modern rendition of the teleological argument (argument from design). The physical constants of the universe have to be incredibly precise in order to bring about life on any given planet. To sum it up, the universe looks designed. Not only that, but the universe looks so incredibly designed that it could have ONLY come about by a designer, and there is no way that sheer chance could have formed the universe the way it is. Our existence is evidence of this. Metaxas is not an expert in this field, but he is certainly not the only one making such a claim. Theoretical physicist John Polkinghorne, and Christian philosopher Robin Collins have elaborated on such ideas. The teleological argument is a strong driving force in philosophy of religion, but Enns is not so fond of it.

In his response, Enns accuses Metaxas of possibly committing a God-of-the-gaps fallacy. This fallacy is committed when one assumes that just because modern science does not address a “gap” of knowledge of the physical world, we should assume God is the source of it. The problem with this fallacy is people who commit it set themselves up for failure when modern science does fill this gap (Galileo kicked God out of His home, Darwin put God out of a job, etc.). This is definitely a fallacy Christians should do their best to avoid. Enns asserts that we should recognize that God is the ground of being, that God is what makes existence itself possible. This is the Paul Tillich theory, that God is the philosophical Absolute, apart from which nothing can exist.

These discussions are healthy and Christians ought to be having them. I find most of natural theology compelling, and it is a topic of interest. Personally, I do not feel inclined to pick a side and decide whether Enns is right or Metaxas is right. It just doesn’t matter to me that much. Metaxas makes some good points, and he sites findings in modern theoretical physics that do present a big problem for the naturalist. At the same time, Enns makes a solid point that we should be careful to avoid God-of-the-gaps arguments, and there have been many times when properties in the physical world were assumed to be the result of divine intervention and later a natural cause was discovered. Both of them make good points. I think both of them are right in certain ways. They may both be wrong. Who knows? Who cares? The truth of the Christian faith runs much deeper.

 

Never Apologize For Good Apologetics

 

My purpose for analyzing the Metaxas/Enns discussion is it is a fairly recent example of modern apologetic discussion. Again, it is not a bad discussion to have. It becomes bad when we focus too much energy on it. I feel I have good reason to believe God exists and He knew humanity would encounter the scientific discoveries we have thus far and those we will continue to encounter. I also believe He knows that human inquiry about the natural world will change, continue to change, and cause certain arguments for God’s existence to not hold the same amount of weight they do at other time periods. My final “this I believe” statement is I believe God expects myself as well as all other Christians to adhere to Scripture as one of our primary methods of understanding who God is.

“He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.”

Psalm 62:6 (NRSV)

Faith built on philosophical arguments and natural theology is shaky. It directly contradicts the verse above. One day it is clear that God exists, the next His tracks are covered by science. This tends to be the goal of many Christians, that intellects on “the other side” can be reached if we can just reason with them. This is bad apologetics. The arguments themselves are not bad, but the motivation behind them is harmful. Give up, Christian. It is not going to work in our reason-driven culture. Christians who are not philosophically driven like others do not possess an inferior faith than those who are. In order to live out a proper Christian life, one must do exactly that: live it out! This is ultimately the most useful Christian apologetic, your life. Use it unapologetically.

Salvation and Communion With God

 

I understand this line of thought may not seem very promising for some.   It is easy to want reason to be on your side when it comes to religious topics. Once again, apologetics and forming arguments are not bad things (they are useful methods under many circumstances). 1 Peter 3:15 does make it clear that we are to give reason for the faith we have. The whole purpose of this post comes down to two points:

  1. Apologetics are only a problem when we expect them to win someone over to Christ. God doesn’t save someone because they realize the universe is designed. He saves them when they recognize He is God. It doesn’t matter how they get there, as long as they do. I didn’t accept Christ because of an apologetic argument (I was only six), I did because I acknowledged who He is as the Son of God. Pure reason will not bring someone to recognize who exactly God is. He has to reveal that Himself. The Christian’s job is to recognize that God is powerful enough and, more importantly, WILLING enough to do this. Be ready to give a defense, but do not bet on that being the driving factor behind one’s salvation. Pray for them, do what you can, and ask for God’s ultimate revelation in their lives.
  2. If you are a Christian, be careful where you ground your faith. If you ground it in apologetics that are susceptible to change, you are standing on shaky ground. This is not to say that you will not have doubts. Plenty of those will present themselves. Be ready to resort to the knowledge that you have of who Christ is and what He has done in your life already, and be careful about using pure philosophy to ease those doubts.

The crucial job for Christians right now is for us to recognize our tendencies to fall into the trap that a reason-driven culture is pulling us into. God is not a puzzle to be solved. If He were, Christ would not have put such a high value on faith. Our primary calling is to recognize the one task Christ has given us: spread the Gospel. Whether that is through door-to-door evangelism or even some philosophical discussions, we are to do it. The ultimate turning point for one’s salvation is God’s intervention and revelation in their life.

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Separating My Philosophy From My God

http://www.desiringgod.org/sermons/why-phds-in-theology-commit-adultery

The above link is to a video of John Piper describing how knowing God on the PhD level in theology can be harmful to our faith in Him.  I found the video to be incredibly humbling and informative.  Is there something that a student of philosophy like myself is missing if I only know God on the academic level?

This has been a genuine struggle for me.  I have a difficult time separating my personal relationship with God from my studies about Him and who He is.  It is something that I am constantly working on in my personal life.  But I feel as though I’m not alone in this boat.  Don’t get me wrong, I love studying philosophy, religion, and biblical hermeneutics.  In fact, I plan to devote my career to it someday.  But the importance of discovering who God is on a relational level has to trump my knowledge of who God is on an academic level.  There are a few steps that I, and many others, have to continually work at in order to properly distinguish my relational faith in God from my academic knowledge of who he is.

Apologetics Can Be Harmful

I am NOT saying Christian apologetics is a bad field of study.  Again, I am devoting my life to studying a part of this.  The problem is that anybody who studies apologetics, philosophy, religion, etc. can easily fall into the trap of devoting every bit their identity in God to strict academic knowledge.  Our faith in God was meant to be much more than that.   As Piper said, “who cares about knowing God the way the Devil does?”  Anybody can study up and gain information about someone they’ve never met.  But knowing someone in this way does not give you any relational status with that person.  There is much more beauty and comfort that you have with an actual relationship with another person than if you just know details about them.

Apologetics can also be harmful when we claim to know indefinitely who God is.  This often occurs through philosophical arguments for the existence of God.  Philosophical arguments can be useful, but they are in no way the defining factor of who God is.  Placing your absolute faith in arguments that are constructed by human thinking can make God out to be something that He is not, and it can give you a false assumption that you know all about God.  The real danger in this is that it can be easy to make God out to be a high probability as opposed to the personal Savior of your soul.  The most humble thing that students of philosophy and theology can do is to recognize that the defining features of God are unknowable, and that mysterious side is the beauty that we ought to be chasing.

Coming to Faith

Most Christians do not come to faith in Christ because of a philosophical argument.  I know I certainly didn’t.  I accepted Christ at the age of six without having any knowledge of systematic theology or philosophical inquiry whatsoever.  Let’s face it, we all believe in certain things without having sufficient reason to do so; or we at least accept things without having enough knowledge to establish that belief.  An atheist may say that they find enough comfort in not knowing all of the mysteries of the universe without invoking a god.  I, on the other hand, find more comfort in invoking God in my worldview and not knowing all of the mysteries about Him.  Philosophical knowledge is useful, but it does not produce spiritual growth or relational comfort with God.

Allowance For Christ’s Intervention

Regardless of whether you are doing a devotional, studying theology, or just living out your everyday life, Jesus Christ must be a part of it.  Do not confine Christ to ten minutes of your morning, or just what you are studying in your Bible class.  Allowing Christ to be the center of everything you do throughout your day is key to being at peace with who God is.  Finding comfort in the fact that God wants to be a part of everything that is going on in your life is what allows you to pursue the mysterious aspects of God and come to terms with the plans that He has for your life.

Does Reason Trump Faith?

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Recently in our society there has been a big conflation with the word “reason” and secularism.  The common idea is that reason leads to the conclusion that there is no God, where as some sort of blind step of faith leads to belief in God.  This kind of thinking is, in it of itself, irrational.  But, in order for me to make my argument for this issue, I must first define both “reason” and “faith.”

 

The simple definition of “reason” in the context I am using it in is “to think logically.”  Easy enough, but why on earth does this exclude the use for God?  This is something that I have yet to even understand at all.  Many people might make the argument that if it can’t be proven with scientific, empirical evidence, then there is no reason to believe in it.  This may be true for some cases, but when you ask questions such as “Is there a God?”, “What happens when we die?”, and “Is morality objective or relative?” you can’t even begin to answer these with empirical evidence.  So, should these questions be excluded from all forms of logic?  NO!  To do so would be to avoid the issue at hand by simply ignoring it, and that is extremely irrational.  One must open their mind to other ways of gaining knowledge, other than just scientific evidence.

 

So, where does faith come into play?  The simple definition of “faith” is “Confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing.”  Why this has been misconstrued into meaning some blind, mindless assertion of something, I do not know.  Faith is simply making a confident statement BASED on reasonable data that we already have.  This may sound cliche, but everybody, including the naturalist, uses faith.  To claim that you know with 100% hard evidence that God is not real, is a false claim in every way, and that is not based on reason alone, but a step of faith.

 

So, faith is simply a claim that is based off of reason.  I don’t think whoever came up with the idea that atheists and naturalists are the only rational and free thinkers out there thought through the implications of that very well.  So, in conclusion, while faith is definitely essential for the Christian doctrine, it is also essential for every other part of knowledge.

Why I Am a Christian.

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Since today is Christmas I figured I better post something about my own personal spiritual experiences.  After all, the purpose of Christmas is to celebrate the coming of Jesus, who is the Messiah who established the foundation for Christianity, and Christianity has certainly played a vital role in my life.  So, many people ask me why I’m a Christian.  I have to admit that it’s not always the most simple and straightforward answer to give, because there are many reasons that have led to my faith in Christ.  However, I guess the first place to start is with my parents.  I am a Christian because of my parents.  There may be nothing remarkable about that, and often times I, or many other Christians, would not like to admit that truth.  I am a Christian because my parents are Christians, and that’s what they raised me to believe, just like Jesus was a Jew because His parents were Jews.  Had I been born into an Islamic family, I would probably be a Muslim.  Yes, this is not the story for every Christian, but it is definitely the story for me.  But should that be where my faith rests on?

 

The purpose of me writing these blogs is for me to communicate what I believe is the truth from a Christian philosophical standpoint.  I cover many issues not just in philosophy, but in history and science as well.  But all of that is pointless if I am not achieving a greater goal, or at least trying to.  The all around truth of the Christian faith is one that has done more for me in my life than any form of apologetics, by itself, can.  Apologetics creates a new way to experience God and share His Word, but we are at a loss if this is all we get.  Yes apologetics has helped me make and develop my faith on my own, but it is only another piece to the whole puzzle.

 

However, I feel as if there is one piece to the puzzle that is bigger than all the rest.  Had Jesus not been there in the first place, there would be no purpose to any of this “Christianity” stuff.  God blessed me with great parents, who raised me in a Christian home, great Christian friends, and great Christian mentors, all who God used to ultimately bring me to Him, so that He could help me realize my need for salvation.  Without that, Christmas really has no meaning at all.  Apologetics and other Christian philosophical ideas have certainly changed my perspective and caused me to grow, but the basis of all of that is something that transcends beyond.

 

On this Christmas, if you are not a Christian, I pray that God will come into your life and radically change your perspective.  If you are a Christian, remember the reasons why you are a Christian, and remember why the reason why Christmas is such a remarkable holiday.

 

 

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. 

 Isaiah 7:14

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

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This next post is about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  This Mormon movement was founded by Joseph Smith in the 1820s and since then it has risen to be a major religious sect.  What separates this group from traditional Orthodox Christianity?  What are the problems with this belief?  Should Mormons be considered Christians?  Can Mormons attain eternal salvation?  I will attempt to answer these questions in this post.

 

There is one key difference between Mormonism and traditional Orthodox Christianity.  Mormons add another testament.  The Book of Mormon is an entirely new testament that many have tried to apply to the rest of the Bible.  Now, why is this important?  MANY reasons.  First, Mormons declare that there are many gods out there, separating themselves from traditional monotheistic Christians.  Second, according to Mormons, Jesus and Lucifer are brothers.  Third, there are three stages of heaven, and if you achieve the top one you can become a god yourself.  Fourth, almost everybody gets to go to heaven and faith is completely unnecessary for eternal salvation.  Fifth, the god of our planet was once a man himself.  These are just a few of many reasons why Christianity and Mormonism are drastically different.

 

So why is this a problem?  Jesus came into the world to save, but we have to accept this eternal gift of salvation.  This is the core part of the Christian religion, and Mormons just kick it right out and completely ignore it.  Also, Mormons do not believe in the one true and living God, and this is a BIG deal when it comes to authority with the rest of Scripture.  The idea that you can become a god completely undermines and destroys what the Bible says about God and His sovereignty.  Overall, Christians have a much higher view of God than Mormons do.

 

What are some of the problems with Mormonism?  The Book of Mormon has been changed over 4000 times since Joseph Smith wrote it.  This is in complete opposition to the rest of the Bible, which has not been changed once.  This just proves that the Book of Mormon is not at all reliable.  Secondly, the Book of Mormon teaches that Jesus was born in Jerusalem, where as the New Testament claims He was born in Bethlehem.  This is a big problem considering these are two completely different countries.  Thirdly, according to Joseph Smith, the angel Moroni came to him in a vision and this is where he got the text.  This is a big problem because, according to Galatians 1:8, even if an angel brings a new text, a we are not to take it seriously.  This is probably the biggest problem, because it strikes right at the heart of Mormonism.

 

So, should we consider Mormons as Christians, and can they attain eternal salvation?  If they withhold the beliefs above, the answer is no.  The central doctrines of Christianity are completely changed in the Mormon belief system.  They do not believe in the same god or the same method of salvation.

Adapting Faith

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I’m going to take a break from my posts on skepticism and talk about the current state of faith in our culture.  This still has to do with knowledge and truth, but not on the same lines as my previous post.  As a Christian, I believe that we need to be aware of the history of faith and how it has changed.  I have come to believe one central thing in my studies.  Faith that cannot adapt to change will significantly shrink and eventually die out.  Now, what do I mean by this?  If our faith is grounded on what we may have thought at one point in our lives, or at one point in our history, then we will see Christianity slowly start to go away.  My theory is that this is what is happening in our society right now.  Yes, there are people genuinely seeking to disprove God, but there are also Christians who feel so strongly that they cannot abandon what they have been taught, that they are willing to refute modern findings in history, science, and other fields of knowledge to keep their fundamental beliefs.  The American society is becoming more and more hostile to Christianity, and it is not because they have no reason.  The popular myth is that Christianity cannot adapt to change, and this is because CHRISTIANS have not allowed it to adapt to change.

 

I live by one central motto in my life.  “All truth is God’s truth.”  I am not afraid to discover what is true, because I do not feel as if God wants me to live in ignorance.  God created the world and everything in it, and so I think it is a sin to sit back and just not discover what is out there because of fear of what we might discover.

 

There are several examples of times where science has changed and many Christians have felt that they cannot accept it, because of what they have been taught.  One example of ignorance in science is when Copernicus theorized that the earth revolved around the sun.  He was deemed a heretic because, in the book of Joshua, Joshua asks God to stop the sun in the sky.  This implied that the sun revolved around the earth, not vise versa.  The reason why he was called a heretic was because people could not let go of their fundamental beliefs and accept the change.  This change brought another way of viewing the Bible into perspective.  God does not correct us if we are ignorant of something in His creation, He lets us discover it on our own.

 

Another example of how science was very different in the past is the people who lived during the time that Genesis was written had a lot of strange, false views about what science was.  They believed that knowledge was derived from our intestines, not our brains.  They also did not believe in a supernatural or a natural world.  Nobody could even perceive of a world where God did not create it.

 

Now, we live in a culture where atheists and agnostics are making the claim that we do not need God or religion because science can explain everything, or will eventually be able to explain everything.  This is because they are taking advantage of the things that Christians are not willing to adapt to, and using them as a weapon against God.  I can see where they are coming with this, however it is not a proper approach.  We used to think angels pushed the planets in orbit, we now know that this is not the case.  We used to think that intelligence came from the intestines, we now know that this is not the case.  We used to think that the earth was only 6000 years old, and we now know that this is not the case.  We used to think that the great complexity of biological life on earth was the result of a designer, and we now know that this is not the case.  Sadly, there are many Christians who will not accept these truths.  I can go on and on, but the point is, if we are trying to conflate God with science, we are asking the wrong questions.  Asking the proper questions is the most important thing to saving Christianity in our culture.  You see, science hasn’t changed since the time when people were extremely ignorant of science.  We are constantly discovering just what is out there and what kinds of questions to ask when trying to figure out things about God.  If we are not open to change, and if we are not open to our faith evolving, we will lose opportunities for winning people to Christ.  Our society is becoming extremely secular because Christians will not open up and embrace the existing reality that is in front of them.  My hope and prayer is that Christians will not settle for intellectual laziness and go out, learn to ask the right questions, find the right answers, and then embrace the secular culture to ultimately further the Kingdom of God.

 

 

“Explaining how something happens scientifically doesn’t explain it away; the question of purpose, intentionality, the question of why still remains there on the table.”

-Alister McGrath