Archive for March, 2009

Does God Exist?[1]

Saturday, March 28th, 2009

A W Tozer.jpg
A W Tozer (Wikipedia)

A.W. Tozer: “What we believe about God is the most important thing about us.”[2]

Philosopher, Mortimer Adler: “More consequences for thought and action follow the affirmation or denial of God than from answering any other basic question.”[3]

A. Why we must start with the existence of God when witnessing to Aussies who do not believe in God.

1. The direct statement of the Bible:

“Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).

2. The Bible’s example of how to reach non-theists:

At the Areopagus (Mars Hill)–Acts 17:16-34, Paul used three principles for sharing the gospel with agnostics (those who did not know if God existed):

(a) Appeal to general revelation (e.g. creation) [vv. 22-29

  • God is the Creator of the universe (v. 24);
  • God is the Sustainer of life (vv. 25, 28a);
  • God is the Ruler of the nations (vv. 26-27);
  • God is the Father of human beings (vv. 28b-29);

(b) Argue the necessity of judgment [vv. 29-31a]

Judgment is an essential part of the gospel message.

  • It will be universal (will judge the world — v. 31);
  • The standard will be righteous (justice v. 31);
  • It is definite judgment; the day has been set and the Judge has been appointed (v. 31);
  • Christ’s resurrection is proof that He will be both Lord and Judge (v. 31).

(c) Announce the good news [v. 30, 31b]

Summary:

  • There is the God;
  • There is judgment;
  • There is the Saviour.

John Stott wrote:

“Many people are rejecting our gospel today not because they perceive it to be false, but because they perceive it to be trivial. People are looking for an integrated world-view which makes sense of all their experience. We learn from Paul that we cannot preach the gospel of Jesus without the doctrine of God, or the cross without creation, or salvation without judgment. Today’s world needs a bigger gospel, the full gospel of Scripture, what Paul later in Ephesus was to call ‘the whole counsel of God’ (Acts 20:27, NEB, RSV).”[4]

B. What are some of the reasons people give for not believing in God?

  • He’s just a figment of the imagination–he’s an invented fantasy.
  • He’s a crutch.
  • How could you possibly believe in an all-loving, all-powerful God with all the evil, illness and suffering in the world?
  • Surely you can’t discount all the other great religions: Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Shintoism, Taoism, etc.?
  • You can’t trust the Bible.
  • We live in a modern, scientific age when there is no room for this nonsense about a God whom you can’t see. What you see it what you get.
  • Evolution is a natural phenomenon, needing no room for a supreme being.
  • Besides science and the Bible contradict.
  • Jesus is just another guru.
  • There are far too many hypocrites in the church. Why would I want to join them?
  • To believe in God is irrational. I’m a reasonable human being. If you can’t prove it to me, I won’t believe in it. Christianity is unreasonable.
  • Then there’s this gobble-dee-gook about miracles.
  • I want no association with those holy-roller yahoos down the road.
  • God is in the same category as the tooth fairy and Santa Claus.
  • I used to believe in those things but now I have grown out of them.

C. What are the practical implications?

1. What difference will it make in life if human beings regard themselves as in charge of their own lives and so in charge of the universe? Or, on the other hand, what if there is a Supreme Being whom we fear, love, is a power to be defied, or is the Lord to be obeyed?

If I am in charge:

  • what happens when a loved one is murdered in cold blood?
  • What about disasters like September 11? What about the tsunami in the Indian Ocean?
  • What can I do about water in drought after the dams, barrages and wells have run dry?
  • What can I do to stop the horrible crimes in my city or elsewhere in the world?
  • Do I have the power to change a sexual abuser (perpetrator) into a law-abiding citizen?
  • Who causes the tides to rise; plants to flower; whales to return to Hervey Bay and turtles to Mon Repos every year?
  • What makes murder, stealing, lying, etc. wrong?

Photo of humpback in profile with most of its body out of the water, with back forming acute angle to water

Humpbacks frequently beach, throwing two-thirds or more of their bodies out of the water and splashing down on their backs (courtesy Wikipedia).

 

 

 

Turtle laying eggs (public domain)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Freshly hatched turtles making their way back to the ocean after hatching (public domain)

 

 

 

 

2. If we acknowledge a divine being/thing, does it matter:

  • if the divine is just a concept of God (something in our head that is nothing more than an intellectual idea)?
  • does it matter if the divine is just something for us to speculate or argue about in the smoko room, over a beer at the pub, or in university philosophy classes?
  • does it matter if the divine is the living God whom people worship in all their acts of worship and who is the Creator and Boss of the universe?

D. People who reject God most often fall into two categories:

1. Atheists

Atheists believe that God does not exist.

Observations:

a. It is always more difficult to prove what is not than what is.

“Say, for example, I call downstairs to my wife in the morning telling her that I can’t find my socks. She says,

‘Fuzzy Wuzzy Was A Woman!’

‘They’re in the spare room.’

I look for a few moments then yell downstairs, ‘No they’re not!’

‘Yes they are,’ she replies.

“It’s much easier for her to prove her case. If she comes upstairs and finds them, she was right. Even if she can’t find them straight away, she may still be right if they are found later. To prove my case I have to search every inch of the room, leaving absolutely no space unexplored. She will only have been proved wrong when I have done all this.”[5]

Atheism is like that. It can only be proved true if every single piece of information in the whole universe is uncovered and all of it at the same time (just in case God hides from us in one place while we are looking in another). This is an impossible task.

Only the most arrogant human beings would claim to know everything. Yet without this knowledge, no atheist can say that he/she is absolutely sure that God does not exist.

The atheist can offer no leak-proof argument that God does not exist.

It’s a statement of faith supported by supposed philosophical arguments, personal experience, the informed opinion of experts, but in the end it falls flat because no absolute proof can be found.

So the statement, “There is no God,” has ‘UNPROVED’ written all over it.

b. Could you imagine living every day under the pressure of somebody finding evidence that God does exist and therefore foul up your entire way of living?

It’s a very insecure position. Like the socks, any moment could prove the wife right. I can only be right at the end of a long search.

George Bernard Shaw, an atheist and the mind behind My Fair Lady, illustrates just how insecure this position is:

“The science to which I pinned my faith is bankrupt. I believed it once. In its name I helped destroy the faith of millions of worshippers in the temples of a thousand creeds. And now they look at me andwitness the tragedy of an atheist who has lost his faith.”[6]

c. Where’s the power?

Since when has atheism changed a drug addict into a decent, law-abiding member of society. How many hospitals, retirement villages, leprosariums, humanitarian projects have been founded and continue, based on atheistic ideals?

Atheism has no moral power to change lives.

2. Agnostics

An agnostic is unsure whether there is a God or not. Maybe, maybe not! Some get quite aggressive about it: “We can’t be certain about anything, so I won’t make a decision either way.” This person is an agnostic who will not budge.

The agnostic sits on the fence.

“Imagine for a moment that you are drowning at sea and two boats arrive to rescue you. they arrive just as you are going down for the third time. You know that one of the boats has a bomb on it and will be blown up within minutes, but you don’t know which boat. Because you know only one of the boats can be trusted, you choose to stay in the ‘safety’ of the water. Sure enough, one of the boats sinks like a stone and the other sails off into the safety of a harbour. You drown! You were so right about only one boat being safe, but so wrong about your decision to stay in the water. Dead wrong! At least on the boat you had a fifty/fifty chance of success.”[7]

The agnostic is like that. He ignores the only two options: there is a God or there is not a God. So he always makes the wrong choice.

For people who want moral help, the atheist can say, “Forget it. Stand on your dig and get on with life.” The Christian says the loving, caring God is available now. But for the agnostic, there is only scepticism, confusion and doubt.

At some point in your looking for answers, not knowing is a reasonable place to be for a short time, but its a nightmare to live in.

E. Some Sign Posts to God’s Existence[8]

There are very few things in life that are as certain as 1+1=2. I know my wife loves me because she says so and does loving things to and with me, but I do not have a fool proof way of knowing she absolutely loves me. But I have the kind of proof needed in court, proof beyond reasonable doubt. That’s the kind of proof we need for life.

That’s all we need to know that God exists. God has left sign posts all over the world.

1. Order & design in the universe

If the earth were closer to the sun we would be fried; if further away we would freeze to death.

Think of life itself. Plants give off oxygen that human beings need. Human beings breathe out carbon dioxide that plants need.

Just think of the wonder of what happens when a woman’s egg (ovum) joins with man’s sperm. From that joining comes legs, hair, skin, blood, brain, heart and other organs of the body. Have you ever thought of the complexity of the human eye?

Chance seems a shoddy way to explain it. God’s designer label is spread out across the universe.

“Sir Isaac Newton, one of the great scientists of the seventeenth century, once built a model of the solar system to help him in his studies. One of his atheistic scientist friends came to see him one day and asked who made the model. ‘Nobody!’ Newton replied. When the scientist accused him of being ridiculous, Newton explained that if no one had a problem in realizing that a model needed a maker, why as it such a problem when confronted with the real universe?”[9]

The total lunar eclipse passed north of the earth’s central shadow on October 8, 2014 (courtesy Wikipedia)

2. Our desires

We get hungry, thirsty and cold. Even a deep search among primitive tribes in the jungle reveals that there is a belief in some kind of God or gods. We have a deep desire for worship.

In spite of Communists banning it, atheists rejecting it, dictators abusing it, intellectuals scoffing at it, and governments suppressing it–it is still there. As maths whiz and philosopher, Pascal, put it back in the 17th century: There’s a God-shaped vacuum in every one of us.

3. We know right from wrong

Don’t we agree that murder, rape, stealing, telling lies, greed, selfishness, and mugging are wrong?

Our daily talk gives it away: “How could he do such a thing to an innocent child?” Why is there such an outcry against juvenile vandalism and graffiti? When teenagers abuse their parents, why the protest?

When a father sexually abuses his 8-year-old, why the fuss if there is no God?

If the atheist is correct and there is nobody we are responsible to, why should we care about values? As Russian author, Fyodor Dostoevsky, said: “If God is dead everything is permitted.”[10]

“In other words, if there is no transcendent standard of the good, then there can ultimately be no way to distinguish right from wrong, good from evil, and there can be no saints or sinners, no good men or bad men. If God is dead, ethics is impossible.”[11]

Where do these moral values come from?

4. The purpose of life

What are we on earth for? We have deep needs for purpose. If there is no God, the universe is just a huge accident. Our life is a fluke.

The average atheist lives life without an awareness of the awful consequences of atheism. Living life without purpose drives many people to suicide.

I find that this is the fundamental problem for our youth who are committing suicide. Hopelessness is what dominates their lives. Mum and Dad are splitting up. They go to school, TAFE (Technical & Further Education, Australia), university and there still might not be a job for them — on the dole for the rest of their lives. So they get into drugs, sex and thrash music. Nothing worth living for, except this moment. Life is without purpose. Hopeless.

This is the problem in Russia today–hopelessness.

I ask you: What answers can you give that will stop Australia from becoming another Bosnia, Syria or Iraq? What will stop another Hitler from arising on the world stage?

See, ‘Mass slaughter in a Bosnian field knee-deep in blood‘ (The Independent, 21 July 1995) and ‘Adolph Hitler: The Holocaust’.

As Ravi Zacharias puts it: “It is evident that life without God is not working. The question really should be, What is going to keep the whole world from becoming another Bosnia?”[12]

5. Somebody made the universe

Everything that is an effect was caused by something. Nothing just happens. We are forced to ask: who or what started the universe in the beginning? Chance or luck cause nothing. They are just a description when we don’t have any other answer.

The other alternative is that God started it. This world is here because God exists and he made it.

6. Many people have met him

Millions of person have met God and have a personal relationship with Him. They may be doctors or brickies, tribes people from Africa or sophisticated university intellectuals. He has changed crooks into law-abiding citizens. He specialises in taking rebels and making them submit to him. It is very difficult to write all of these people off as fanatics or cranks.

7. Meet Jesus Christ

He said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). God has come to earth in the person of Jesus Christ. He lived among us. We know what God is like by seeing Jesus in action–healing, compassion on the destitute, chastising the religious self-righteous, and offering salvation to all by dying as a common criminal for the sins of the world.

I visited a prison and met a prisoner who had a reputation of being the “religious” one in the group.  He openly quoted Scripture.  When I spoke with him he told me that he had committed his life to Jesus Christ as Lord since he came to prison.  He is openly sharing Christ with all the prisoners he meets.  He told me of how his wicked life was turned around when he met Jesus Christ personally.

Notes


[1] With lots of help from Stephen Gaukroger (1989), especially chapter 1, “Can I really believe in God?”

[2] In Paul Little (1970:25).

[3] Mortimer Adler (in Little 1987: 21).

[4] Stott (1990:290).

[5] Gaukroger (1989:8).

[6] G. B. Shaw (in Gaukroger 1989:9).

[7] Gaukroger (1989:11).

[8] Adapted from Gaukroger (1989:12 ff).

[9] Gaukroger (1989:13).

[10] In The Brothers Karamazov (1880), cited in Sire (1988:118).

[11] Sire (1988:118).

[12] Ravi Zacharias (1994:51).

 

Works consulted

Gaukroger S 1989. It Makes Sense. London: Scripture Union.

Little, P 1970.  Know What You Believe. Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books.

Sire, J W 1988. The Universe Next Door. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.

Stott, J R W 1990. The Message of Acts (The Bible Speaks Today). Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press.

Zacharias, R 1994. Can Man Live Without God? Dallas: Word Publishing.

 

Copyright (c) 2014 Spencer D. Gear.  This document is free content.  You can redistribute it and/or modify it under the terms of the OpenContent License (OPL) version 1.0, or (at your option) any later version.  This document last updated at Date:11 October 2014.

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Apologetics: A Critical Church Ministry

Sunday, March 22nd, 2009

By Spencer D Gear

A. Introduction

I was talking with a Christian who was devastated by a program he had seen on SBS TV, “Jesus to Christ.”[1]

This show featured some scholars who claimed that the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) are essentially myth and could not be trusted as historical documents. My friend was so upset by what he heard that he said to me, “I am shocked. My faith has been shaken to the core. I am numb in disbelief. As a Christian, have I been living a fantasy all this time?”

This TV show featured scholars who were doubters about Bible content. If you read Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography[2] by John Dominic Crossan, you will learn that Luke 2:41-52, the story of Jesus’ youthful wisdom, and Luke 4:1-30, Jesus’ wisdom in finding and interpreting a certain passage from Isaiah, is (wait for it): “Lukan propaganda.”[3] It was propaganda made up by Luke.

Crossan also concludes, as “history’s best guess,” that Jesus was not born in Bethlehem, but “was born, possibly . . . to Joseph and Mary at Nazareth. . . . He was born into but not necessarily as the first of a large family and had at least six siblings. The rest is mythology, telling us much about Jesus’ later followers but nothing about Jesus’ earlier origins, telling us how future history might be founded but not at all how past history had happened.”[4]

In other words, the early church created some of this information in the Gospels and the Gospels contains myth. It didn’t happen historically but was invented by the Gospel writers or the early church.

When you read or listen to the mass media at Christmas and Easter times, you generally will hear from those who do not believe the Gospel and do not trust the historical authenticity of the Bible. You’ll hear people like Crossan, John Shelby Spong, and others who doubt the Bible. You might get the occasional orthodox believer.

There is a new breed of Bible bashers in the world today. These scholars have been in the closets of academic institutions. But no more! They are taking their message to the world through the popular mass media – newspapers, magazines, television, radio, writing their own books at a popular level, and the Internet. They could have their message of tearing into the Bible in Time magazine[5], any of the leading Australian newspapers, TV current affairs, radio news and talk-back shows.

In building a case to support Bishop Spong’s opposition to fundamentalism, there was an article in The Canberra Times, titled, “The Gospel Truth?”[6] In my view, the journalist used a number of unfair methods to distort the views of Bible-believing Christians. I was living in Canberra at the time, so I submitted an article as a right of reply and The Canberra Times published it as “Distorting the Gospel Truth.”[7]

Use your favourite search engine on the www and make a search for the teachings of Anglican Primate of Australia, Dr. Peter Carnley, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, John Shelby Spong, John Dominic Crossan, Robert Funk and Burton Mack. You might be surprised at what you’ll find that is antagonistic to the Gospels and the reliability of the Bible.

Many of these doubters and destroyers come from within the church. How will your faith deal with their destructive claims about God, Christ and the Bible?

There’s a new kind of missionary group that is very active in the world today. Greg Koukl, a Christian apologist, says that they “practice evangelism in reverse. . . They don’t want you to commit your life to the Christ of the Gospels; they want you to surrender that commitment. And they claim to have history, science and scholarship on their side. They call themselves The Jesus Seminar.”[8] This new group has been active since 1985.[9]

When you see these people in the mass media or hear their teaching in some churches or on the www, how will you respond?

What about our youth who may get this doubt and castigation in high school and university classrooms? Has the church adequately prepared its people for this tirade against God, the Bible and Jesus?

These are some of the newspaper headlines these scholars have grabbed:[10]

  • “Scholars Say Jesus Was Often Misquoted.”[11]
  • “Jesus Didn’t Claim to Be Messiah, Scholars Say.”[12]
  • “Lord’s Prayer Not Jesus’s, Scholars Say.”[13]
  • “Jesus Never Predicted His Return, Scholars Say.”[14]
  • “Jesus Didn’t Promise to Return, Bible Scholars Group Says.”[15]

This is only a sample, but they could be repeated many times over in our mass media.

What will you do, Christian leader, when one of your flock comes to you with questions from these newspaper articles? What answers will you provide? Are you simply going to say, “Go read your Bible” or “Make sure you are at mid-week Bible study and keep up your devotions and praying”?

When I say that “I believe in Jesus Christ and that the Bible is a dependable record,” which TV news reporter will rush for an interview with me? I’m not waiting. What will happen f you claim to be a Bible scholar and make this kind of statement? “I don’t believe in the traditional, historical Jesus Christ; the Gospels cannot be trusted, contain myth, and were made up by Christians long after the events of the Gospels.” Say that and you will have the media pounding on your doorstep. That’s news and it makes sense for the journalists to be interviewing scholars about a story – with a difference.

Then add the September 11 disaster, the cyclone that devastated Burma, the horror of the earthquake in China, the tsunami, and we have lots of questions being thrown at Christian believers: How can you believe in such a God who allows or sends these? He must be a brute!

This is the kind of world we face in the 21st century.

I consider that we are in a crisis in many evangelical churches because we are failing to equip Christians to answer these questions for themselves and to provide answers for questioners. I had a recent example where I was talking to a man who was an abuser of his wife. I asked him: “Where did you learn to abuse your spouse?” He responded: “I read it in the Book, the one with a cross on it. That’s a violent book!”

This leads to the core of this article:

B. Apologetics is a critical church ministry: We need to be answering Aussies questions about God & the world

I am convinced that as a general rule in Australia, many churches are not equipping their people adequately for the critical ministry of apologetics. Ephesians 4:11-15 provides direction for us. Note these fundamentals in this passage:

  • These are the ministry gifts of Christ – apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher. They are for what purpose?
  • They are given “to equip the saints for the work of ministry” (v. 12).[16] This includes many ministries but the ministry of apologetics is one of those. This will lead to this outcome:
  • According to v. 14, it means that we will no longer be children in the faith and tossed about by false doctrine and human cunning, craftiness and deceitful schemes.
  • Where does this quipping ministry begin? The responsibility lies at the feet of church leaders who are committed to the scriptural ministry of equipping believers for their work of ministry.

1. What is apologetics?

Woody Allen, the USA actor, director, musician and comedian, asked: “Can we actually ‘know’ the universe? My God, it’s hard enough to find your way around in Chinatown. The point, however, is: Is there anything out there? And why?”[17] Woody retorted: “Not only is there no God, but try getting a plumber on weekends.”[18]

People are asking these kinds of questions:

  • Is there meaning in life? How can modern human beings find that meaning? I have counselled a number of people on the verge of suicide over the years who are asking that exact question.
  • Can we ever discover truth in a postmodern world?
  • How can you know that Christianity is truth, over against, say, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, paganism or spiritism?
  • How can you know if the Bible is a trustworthy document when compared with any document from history?

Those are the types of questions that the ministry of apologetics seeks to answer.

Apologist Winfried Corduan wrote that “the defense of the truth of Christianity is called apologetics. . . . The Greek word apologia (defense) is the word that would be used to defend one’s case in a court of law. Thus the Christian should be able to state what he or she believes, and why. Apologetics helps the Christian mount a credible case for the truth of Christianity.”[19]

The English word, “apology,” has a different meaning to the Greek noun. The Greek noun, apologia (defense) and the verbal form, apologoumai (I make a defense) appear approximately 20 times in the Greek New Testament.[20]

2. I need to apologise for apologetics[21]

Since I have been promoting the need for more apologetic teaching within the church for a number of years, there has been some resistance among Christians. Objections include these: You can’t argue anybody into the kingdom. Apologetics only caters to pride. Conversion is not about the intellect; it is all about the heart. You are only catering to the intellectuals and this is not for everyday people.

Apologetics is a ministry that defends itself. All who argue against the ministry of apologetics end up using their own kind of apologetic argument.

Ravi Zacharias, one of today’s leading apologists, said it well, “The one who says apologetics is a matter of pride ends up proudly defending one’s own impoverishment. The one who says conversion is a matter of the heart and not the intellect ends up presenting intellectual arguments to convince others of this position. So goes the process of self-contradiction.”[22]

What are our reasons for defending the faith?

C. Reasons for Defending the Faith [23]

I am grateful for the excellent work of apologist and theologian, Dr. Norman Geisler.He gives these reasons for defending the faith and I use his outline:

1. God Commands the Use of Reason

The most important reason for doing apologetics is that God told us to do it. Over and over the New Testament exhorts us to defend the Faith. Let’s look briefly at some primary verses in 1 Peter 3:15-16a: “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”

Note the five straight-forward emphases from these two verses:

a. You are already acknowledging Christ as the Lord in your hearts.

Peter links doing apologetics with Christ’s Lordship in our hearts. Since he is Lord, then we should be obedient to Him as “we demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:4-5). We should be confronting issues in our own minds and entering into private and public discourse with others who have doubts that are preventing them from knowing God. This is included in the ministry of apologetics.

b. “Always be prepared”

It couldn’t be clearer. All believers must be ready and prepared. This is emphasised with the words, “Everyone who asks.” All believers must be prepared for that person who asks about your faith. Too often we miss the subtle ways that people ask or hint. I recall one who asked me, “Why are so many teenagers depressed?” What an opportunity to discuss meaning in life and the Gospel connection!

You may not come across those who ask the tough questions about our faith all that often, but you should be prepared for when they come. Being ready is not just a matter of having the right information available. It is also an attitude of readiness and eagerness to share with others the truth of what we believe.

What will you say if somebody asks you:

  • “Who made God?” or
  • You have the meanest most obnoxious God! Look what he did in killing all those people in the Chinese earthquake and causing such destruction. Take a read of the Book of Judges in the OT. He must be a monster! How are you prepared right now to answer these questions?
  • Scientific, modern human beings can never believe in miracles. That’s out-of-date stuff. That nonsense is for old-timers.
  • I speak with people who say that Christianity is a myth. Are you prepared to respond?

c. We must be prepared for what? “To give an answer.”

Notice these various Bible translations:

KJV: “and be ready always to give an answer.”

NIV: “always be prepared to give an answer.”

NKJV: “always be ready to give a defense.”

NASB: “always being ready to make a defense.”

ESV: “always being prepared to make a defense.”

NRSV: “always be ready to make your defence.”

Be ready “to give an answer” somewhat disguises the meaning of apologia, which is to give a defense as in a court. The NKJV, NASB, ESV and NRSV provide the more precise translations.

First Peter 3:15 tells us what we are to provide:

d. A defense for the hope you have in Christ;

It is here that we sometimes become stuck. We make assertions like: “I’m a born again Christian” or “my hope for the present and the future is in Christ for eternal life,” but we are not prepared for the resistance:

  • Who would believe that junk?
  • The Bible is just like Greek mythology.
  • As with John D. Crossan, parts of Luke’s Gospel are “Lukan propaganda.”
  • You believe in God; you believe in fantasy;
  • You can’t believe in God and Christ and still believe in science.

e. Do it “with gentleness and respect.”

These kinds of questions can naturally cause us to become defensive, sarcastic and antagonistic in our responses.

There’s no place for self-assured cockiness in apologetics. Putting people down is contrary to the way of Jesus. I’m reminded of Col. 4:5-6 and how we ought to do evangelism, apologetics and many other ministries: “Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the best use of your time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (ESV).

This word, “answer”, is used only once by Paul in his epistles but 7 times in the NT[24]and is not apologia, but apokrinomai, which means an answer or reply to something or someone when they ask. [25]

Remember God’s emphasis in Isaiah 1:18: “‘Come now, let us reason together,’says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;     though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”

So is the use of reason opposed to the Bible? Hardly!

Paul wrote in Philippians 1:7, speaking of his mission as one of “defense and confirmation of the gospel” (ESV). There’s that word again, “defense” (apologia). He added in Phil. 1:16, “I am put here for the defense of the gospel” (ESV). We are put wherever God has placed us to defend the Gospel as well. We are here to be apologists for the Gospel and that means providing a defense of the faith to those who ask us for reasons to believe in Christ.

You are familiar with Jude 3: “Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.”

The people Jude was writing to had been assaulted by false teachers and he needed to encourage them to contend (literally, agonise for) the faith as it had been revealed through Christ. Jude makes a significant statement about our attitude as we do this in verse 22 when he says, “Be merciful to those who doubt.” Apologetics, then, is a form of mercy.

Titus 1:9 makes knowledge of Christian evidences a requirement for church leadership. An elder in the church “must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.”

In 2 Tim. 2:24-25 Paul declares that “the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.”

Anyone attempting to answer the questions of unbelievers will sometimes feel wronged and be tempted to lose patience. Avoid quarreling. Our ultimate goal is that they might come to knowledge of the truth that Jesus has died for their sins.

Indeed, the command to use reason is part of the greatest command. For Jesus said, “`Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matt. 22:37-38).

Why engage in the ministry of apologetics? Firstly, God commands the use of reason.

2. Reason Demands It

Take a look at yourself. Do you just buy any old or new car? You have your reasons for purchasing this car instead of that one.

Why have you chosen to worship the Lord of the universe as revealed in the Holy Bible, rather than the God of the Quran, the gods of the Hindus, or choosing not to worship at all? Why?

When God created you in his image, he created you with human reason (Gen. 1:27, cf. Col. 3:10). One of the things that distinguishes us from “brute beasts” or “unreasonable animals” (Jude 10, ESV) is our ability to reason and have a relationship with God.

God calls, “Come now, let us reason together” (Isa. 1:18). First John 4:6 affirms that “we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” According to Heb. 5:14, mature believers “have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (ESV).

Are we getting the message? A fundamental principle of human reason is that we should have sufficient grounds for what we believe. An unjustified belief is just that—unjustified.

Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”[26] And an unexamined belief is not worth believing. Therefore, God’s requirement is for all of us “to give a reason for our hope.” I understand that this is part of the great command to love God with all of our minds, as well as our hearts and souls (Matt. 22:36-37).

The third reason for engaging in the ministry of apologetics is:

3. The World Needs It

Many secular people I speak with are not prepared to accept our Jesus and the Bible on our say-so. They want to know why you believe that “nonsense.” God made us as rational, reasonable human beings and he wants us to look and examine before we leap.

Please understand that faith is always needed but God wants us to make a step of faith in the direction of evidence concerning Himself. You need to know that this God is the one who matches reality and is not any kind of God. You wouldn’t get into your car and drive it if there was smoke coming from under the bonnet. You have reasons not to drive that vehicle. Evidence and reason are important to establish whether you should drive that car. Evidence and reason are even more important when making the ultimate decision of your life: Will I believe in God? Which god?

There is a fourth reason for engaging in the ministry of apologetics.

4. Results Confirm It

One of the reasons against apologetics that people sometimes give me is that Paul was a failure on Mars Hill (Acts 17). Norman Geisler has correctly diagnosed this situation:

Opponents argue that Paul was unsuccessful in his attempt to reach the thinkers on Mars Hill (in Acts 17), discarding the method and later telling the Corinthians that he wanted to “know Jesus and Him only” (1 Cor. 2:2). However, this interpretation is based on a serious misunderstanding of the text.

For one thing, Paul did have results on Mars Hill. For some people were saved, including a philosopher. The text says clearly “A few men became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others” (Acts 17:34).

For another thing, nowhere in either Acts or 1 Corinthians does Paul indicate any repentance or even regret over what he did on Mars Hill. This is reading into the text what simply is not there.[27]

There are people throughout history and in our contemporary world who were led to faith in Christ through a defense of the faith?  I’m reminded of a few examples.  Some go way back in the history of the church.

St. Augustine of Hippo[28]

This early church father lived from A.D. 354-430. He “is considered one of the great fathers of the Christian church, and has been of momentous importance in the development of Christian thought.”[29] There were a number of apologetic turning points in his life before he became a Christian.

He was into Manichaean dualism and he was helped out of that cult by a young Christian, Helpidius, who would debate the Manicheans.[30] A defence of the faith helped Augustine out of total skepticism and to see the self-defeating nature of Manichaean religion.

“Dualism claims that there are two essentially different principles of reality. Sometimes these two are represented by pairs of opposites as light/darkness, knowledge/ignorance, spirit/matter (also mind/body), Good/Evil, etc.”[31] But the Manicheans were a major Gnostic religion, started by Mani in 3rd century Persia. They [32]believed in “radical dualism”, that these “two principles are absolutely contrary (neither bipolar nor binary!), i.e. they oppose each other in their very essences and have nothing in common, and they are eternal, non-created and undestroyable.”[33]

Augustine tells that if it were not for his studying Plotinus, “he would not even been able to conceive of a spiritual being, let alone believe in one.”[34] Read of it is Augustine’s autobiography, Confessions.[35]

From the ancient past to the present!

Ravi Zacharias

This contemporary Christian apologist, born in India, now travels the world defending the Christian faith. But it was not always that way. In his teen years he tells of how he would skip school for days on end and turn up for exams and barely scrape through.[36] He wrote: “My relationship with my father left a lot to be desired and my aimless life was a cause of immense frustration to him.”[37]

Ravi’s father found out that he had not been at school one day and Dad’s “torrent of anger” was unleashed on him and the thrashing he received left him “trembling and sobbing.” Had his mother not intervened, he “could have been seriously hurt.”

Ravi explains that “no one who knew me would have ever suspected the depth of emptiness within me. I was one of those teenagers who struggled with much on the inside but did not know where to turn for answers. . . Putting it plainly, life to me just did not make sense.”[38]

That night, in his teens, after a trouncing from his father, Ravi says: “The intense soul search that began that night was ultimately to lead me to the person of Jesus Christ. How that happened in a culture that is rigorously pantheistic and (at least on paper) religiously all-encompassing is a miracle in itself.”[39]

You can read of Ravi’s struggle with skepticism, the meaning of life and how Christ saved this man, in his book, Jesus among Other Gods.[40] The struggle for the meaning of life in a pantheistic culture, led him to “firmly believe Jesus Christ to be who He claimed to be—the Son of the living God, the One who came to seek and to save a lost humanity.”[41]

Ravi Zacharias migrated to Canada when he was 20 years old. Today he, as a Christian apologist, has spoken in over fifty countries, including the Middle East, Vietnam and Cambodia (during the military conflict) and in numerous universities worldwide, notably Harvard, Princeton and Oxford Universities. He has addressed writers of the peace accord in South Africa, the President’s . . . cabinet and parliament in Peru, and military officers at the Lenin Military Academy and the Center for Geopolitical Strategy in Moscow.[42]

But this journey began as a troubled teen in India who was on the verge of committing suicide.

Frank Morrison

This “skeptic set out to disprove Christianity by showing the resurrection never occurred. The quest ended with his conversion and a book titled Who Moved the Stone? in which the first chapter was titled ‘The Book That Refused to be Written'”[43]

Norman Geisler tells this story of the impact of Frank Morrison’s book:

“Let me tell you just one story about an atheist I had the privilege of introducing to Jesus Christ. After reasoning him from atheism to open-minded agnosticism, he agreed to read Frank Morrison’s book. The evidence for Christ’s resurrection convinced him and we had the privilege of leading him to Christ. He has subsequently raised his family for Christ and is a leader in a church south of St. Louis”.[44]

Simon Greenleaf

At the beginning of the 20th century, Simon Greenleaf was the Professor of Law at Harvard University, who wrote a significant book on legal evidence. He was challenged by students to apply the rules of legal evidence to the New Testament to see if its testimony would stand up in court. The result was a book titled The Testimony of the Evangelists in which he reported his own conversion to Christ.[45]

Ravi Zacharias, Norman Geisler, William Lane Craig and other apologists report of those who come to Christ as a result of a defence of the faith. Norman Geisler gives another example:

“Following a debate on the rationality of belief in Christianity with the head of the philosophy department at the University of Miami, the Christian student leadership held a follow-up meeting. The atheist professor attended and expressed doubts about his view expressed at the debate. It was reported that some 14 people who had attended the debate made decisions for Christ”.[46]

These are some of the reasons for the need for a ministry of apologetics in the 21st century. This ministry needs to be equipped and promoted by the local church.

D. Conclusion

I have a very personal application that fired me up in the ministry of apologetics. I was sitting in a doctoral class in a certain USA university. In class, I questioned one of the examples of evolution in a text book. I did not mention a word about Christ or creation, but the professor unleashed his bitterness towards my comments: “Your views are blankety blank” and he swore at me. He later apologised to me privately, but not in front of the class where he assailed me.

I felt spiritually naked that day. I did not know how to respond to him. I had 2 diplomas from Bible colleges, a BA in biblical literature and NT Greek, and a master’s degree in pastoral psychology & counselling, but I did not have one course in apologetics to prepare me for that day.

Since 1984, I have made it my business to prepare myself and others in the defense of the glorious Christian faith. I needed to put I Peter 3:15 into practice:

“”But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”

Recommended reading

  1. The best introduction to apologetics for the laity that I have read, is by Stephen Gaukroger 2003, It Makes Sense, Scripture Union, London. The latest edition comes with a DVD and study guide. I recommend it highly for study as a group. However, at the time of this update, the book was out of print but the DVD and study guide was still available from the Clarion Trust, England.
  2. Ravi Zacharias & Norman Geisler (gen. eds.) 2003, Who Made God? And Answers to Over 100 Other Tough Questions of Faith, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan. There are questions for reflection and discussion at the end of each chapter.
  3. Ravi Zacharias & Norman Geisler (gen. eds.) 2003, Is Your Church Ready? Motivating Leaders to Live an Apologetic Life, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan. At the conclusion of each chapter, this book also has “questions for reflection and discussion.”
  4. Norman Geisler & Ron Brooks 1990, When Skeptics Ask: A Handbook on Christian Evidences, Victor Books, Wheaton, Illinois.
  5. Winfried Corduan 1993, Reasonable Faith: Basic Christian Apologetics, Broadman & Holman Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee.
  6. Lee Strobel has some good material in his books, The Case for Christ (1998), The Case for the Real Jesus (2007), The Case for a Creator (2005), The Case for Faith (2000), Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
  7. If you want something more intellectually challenging, try William Lane Craig 1994, Reasonable Faith, Crossway Books, Wheaton, Illinois, or Norman Geisler 1988, Christian Apologetics, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Notes


[1]SBS Television, “Jesus to Christ, 3 January 1999, 8.30pm.

[2] Crossan, J. D. 1994a, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, HarperSanFrancisco, San Francisco.

[3] Ibid., p. 26.

[4] Ibid., emphasis added.

[5]e.g. Richard N. Ostling, “Jesus Christ, Plain and Simple,” Time, 10 January 1994, 38, in Dr. Gregory A. Boyd, Jesus Under Siege. Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books, 1985, 137.

[6] The Canberra Times, August 4, 1991, Robert Macklin.

[7] Rev. Spencer Gear, “Distorting the Gospel Truth,” The Canberra Times, August 11, 1991, p. 10.

[8] Gregory Koukl 1995, “The Jesus Seminar Under Fire,” Stand to Reason, available from: http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5380 [7 August 2008].

[9] The home of the Jesus Seminar is the Westar Institute, available from: http://www.westarinstitute.org/ [7 August 2008].

[10]All of these newspaper headlines are from Luke Timothy Johnson, The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996, p. 20.

[11]San Francisco Chronicle, 9 March 1987.

[12]San Francisco Chronicle, 18 October, 1987.

[13]Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 15 October 1988.

[14]Atlanta Constitution, 5 March 1989.

[15]Los Angeles Times, 5 March 1989.

[16] Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture references are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version 2001, Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Illinois.

[17] Woody Allen 1978, “My Philosophy,” available from: http://profron.net/fun/WoodysPhilosophy.html [14 June 2008].

[18] Ibid.

[19] Winfried Corduan 1993, Reasonable Faith: Basic Christian Apologetics, Broadman & Holman Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee, p. vii.

[20] See Luke 12:11; 21:14; Acts 19:33; 22:1; 24:10; 25:8, 16; 26:1, 2, 24; Rom. 2:15; 1 Cor. 9:3; 2 Cor. 7:11; 12:10; Phil. 1:7, 16; 2 Tim. 4:16; 1 Pet. 3:15.

[21] Suggested Ravi Zacharias in the introduction to Beyond Opinion: Living the Faith We Defend, available from Ravi Zacharias International Ministries at: http://www.rzim.org/GlobalElements/GFV/tabid/449/ArticleID/6648/CBModuleId/1303/Default.aspx (RZIM) [19 June 2008].

[22] Ibid.

[23]With help from Dr. Norman Geisler’s homepage, “The Need for Apologetics,” at: http://www.normgeisler.com/ [25 April 2008]. Also in Norman L. Geisler 1999, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 37ff.

[24] William F. Arndt & F. Wilbur Gingrich 1957, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, p. 92.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Apology 38a, available from: http://www.philosophypages.com/hy/2d.htm [7 August 2008].

[27] Available from Dr. Norman Geisler’s homepage at: http://www.normgeisler.com/ [25 April 2008].

[28] Ibid.

[29] Conservapedia, “St. Augustine,” available from: http://www.conservapedia.com/St._Augustine [26 June 2008].

[30] Read about it in The Confessions, cited in Geisler, ibid.

[31] Manichaeism, available from: http://www.geocities.com/phoenixsparx/index.html [26 June 2008].

[32] Mani lived, A. D. 210–276. See Wikipedia at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manichaeanism [26 June 2008].

[33] Ibid.

[34] The Confessions, in Geisler, ibid.

[35] Saint Augustine 1961, Confessions, Penguin Books Ltd., Harmondsworth, Middlesex.

[36] Ravi Zacharias 2000, Jesus Among Other Gods: The Absolute Claims of the Christian Message, Word Publishing, Nashville, p. 1ff.

[37] Ibid., p. 1.

[38] Ibid., p. 2.

[39] Ibid., p. 3.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Ibid., p. 3.

[42] Available from: http://www.e316.com/authors/profile-Zacharias,_Ravi.asp [26 June 2008].

[43] Geisler, ibid.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Ibid.

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