Two Dozen (or So) Arguments for God | Influence Podcast


Publishers harvested a bumper crop of atheist book in 2006 and 2007. Letters to a Christian Nationby Sam Harris, The God Delusionby Richard Dawkins, Breaking the Spellby Daniel C. Dennett, and God Is (Not) Greatby Christopher Hitchens come readily to mind, among many others. Each of these book claimed in one way or another that belief in God was intellectually deficient, a matter of faith rather than reason.

The philosophers who contributed to Two Dozen (or So) Arguments for Godbeg to differ. They think there are good reasons to believe that God exists. In Episode 155 of the Influence Podcast, I talk to Jerry L. Walls about good  arguments for God.

Walls is Scholar in Residence and Professor of Philosophy at Houston Baptist University, as well as co-editor with Trent Dougherty of Two Dozen (or So) Arguments for God, which is published by Oxford University Press.

P.S. This is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

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Do Miracles Really Happen? | Influence Podcast


Easter is a few days away. Around the world, Christians will celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This event, so pivotal to Christian faith, is a reminder that Christianity is an inherently supernatural religion. Unfortunately, in the modern era, many disbelieve in miracles, their skepticism fueled by appeals to science. So, the question naturally arises, do miracles really happen?

To answer that question, I interviewed Lee Strobel about his new book, The Case for Miracles. Strobel began his career as the award-winning legal editor for The Chicago Tribune. After his conversion from atheism to Christianity, however, he turned his attention to apologetics and evangelism and has written bestsellers like The Case for Christ, The Case for Faith, The Case for a Creator, and The Case for Grace. He currently serves as professor of Christian Thought at Houston Baptist University as well as teaching pastor at Woodlands Church.

If you’d like a video of Lee Strobel making the case for Jesus’ resurrection, which you can download and use in your church, go here.

P.S. This is reposted (with minor edits) from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

P.P.S. Here are my two previous podcasts with Lee: (1) “Why Evangelism Needs Apologetics” and  (2) “Raising Your Church’s Evangelistic Temperature.”

Our Deepest Desires | Book Review


For as long as I can remember, I have been interested in apologetics, the rational defense of the Christian faith. This interest led me to study philosophy in college and accounts for quite a few books in my library. But over the course of my ministry, I have discovered that arguments — the logical kind, not the yelling-and-screaming kind — have a limited power to change minds.

Blaise Pascal identified a reason for this limitation in his Pensées. “Men despise religion,” he wrote. “They hate it and are afraid it may be true.” Notice the verbs: despise, hate, are afraid. This is the language of affect, not intellect; of roiling desires, not calm, cool reflection. On this account, Christian apologetics often fails because it treats people like the Vulcan Dr. Spock rather than the all-too-human Captain Kirk.

Pascal outlined a three-pronged strategy for apologetics in light of this truth about human nature:

The cure for this is first to show that religion is not contrary to reason, but worthy of reverence and respect. Next make it attractive, make good men wish it were true, and then show that it is true.

We might call these three prongs negative apologetics, apologetics from desire, and positive apologetics. Negative apologetics rebuts arguments against Christianity, showing that they are false. Positive apologetics makes arguments for Christianity, showing that it is true. Pascal’s crucial insight is that apologetics from desire play a crucial role. People must “wish it were true” in order to see “that it is true.”

Although Gregory E. Ganssle doesn’t cite Pascal in Our Deepest Desires, I get the impression that his book is a Pascalian project nonetheless. “The claim that this book will explore,” he writes, “is that the Christian story makes sense of our deepest longings. That is,” he goes on to explain, “the story that Christianity sets forth fits well with the things we value most and with the kinds of people we want to be.”

What kinds of things? Ganssle names four key values: persons, goodness, beauty and freedom. These values are, he believes, transcendental and universal. They are the kinds of things all people must take into account as they try to construct a good life.

Take persons, for example. Ganssle shows that “what we value most is connected to our personhood.” This is the case for two reasons: “The value of the things we pursue for ourselves is enhanced because we have human capabilities, and we value other people intrinsically.” In other words, we are persons (not pigs or peanuts or planets), so the good life we pursue must be appropriate for us. Moreover, that good life is relational to the core.

What story makes best sense of this fact? Ganssle contrasts the Christian story with the atheist story throughout the book. Let me cite a representative example of each story, then add in Ganssle’s argument.

First, a representative example of the Christian story:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us (1 John 4:7–12).

Ganssle writes: “In the Christian story, the most fundamental reality is intrinsically relational” (emphasis in original). God is a Trinity of persons in eternal relationship of love with one another. This eternal Trinitarian love has implications for the doctrine of creation: “God’s love for the created order and particularly for the persons God created is an overflow of the love among the distinct persons within the divine nature. Love overflows into creative giving.” Given this reality, it is not surprising that “the content of Christian ethics centers on love and service to others.”

Now, for a representative example of the atheist story — by atheism, Ganssle means evolutionary naturalism, the “unguided Darwinian story” of human origins — consider this famous quote from the infamous Bertrand Russell:

That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast heat death of the solar system, and that the whole of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins — all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.

In this story, Ganssle points out, “our relational nature arises solely from our biological nature, which in turn arises from the underlying physics. In these accounts, the human drive to form and value relationships found its impetus in the need to survive.” So, yes, relationship is part of the atheist story, but as Ganssle points out, this is “an accident of evolutionary history.” He goes on to conclude: “Our beliefs about these relational virtues do not track with the deep contours of reality. So, although the meaning and value of relationships are not incompatible with atheism, they do not fit well with the atheistic story.”

Notice that Ganssle hasn’t argued that the Christian story is true. He’s simply argued that it’s a better fit to our deepest desires about personhood. He makes similar arguments about goodness, beauty and freedom. These transcendental values — our deepest desires — fit better within the Christian story of reality than in the atheist story. To use Pascal’s words, the Christian story is “attractive.” It is the kind of story “good men wish … were true.”

Obviously, there’s still a place for negative and positive apologetics. We have to show that Christianity is true, not false, after all. But if arguments from desire have moved people from scorn, hatred and fear of religion to curiosity about it, or even an openness to “reverence and respect,” then our arguments stand a far better chance of being persuasive.

Our Deepest Desires is a short book, but Gregory E. Ganssle should be congratulated for how much deep and interesting insight he has packed into its pages.

 

Book Reviewed:
Gregory E. Ganssle, Our Deepest Desires: How the Christian Story Fulfills Human Aspirations (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2017).

P.S. I wrote this review for InfluenceMagazine.com. It appears here by permission.

P.P.S. If you found my review helpful, plese vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Tuesday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • We interview Bryan Sederwall about the ministry of the Denver Dream Center. “Faith communities need to identity concerns in their cities and then establish a cause.”
  • Chris Colvin suggests different ways of saying “Thank you!” to donors. “If you want to see increased giving, watch occasional givers become consistent givers and instill a sense of purpose in your offerings, a ‘thank you’ is one of the best instruments you can employ.”
  • Paul Franks reviews Tactics, an apologetics book and small-group curriculum by Greg Koukl. “When we do begin to talk about our faith, it’s easy to find ourselves on the defensive.” Reading and using Tactics helps overcome that problem.
  • Here’s an encouraging note: “Even in an increasingly secular culture, about half of U.S. adults still bow their heads to pray when they sit down to a meal.”

Please make sure to follow and like InfluenceInfluence magazine on Facebook, Twitter, and iTunes!

Review of ‘Hidden in Plain View’ by Lydia McGrew


Lydia McGrew, Hidden in Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts (Chillicothe, Ohio: DeWard, 2017).

Are the Gospels and the Book of Acts historically reliable? Its authors certainly thought so.

For example, Luke stated that his Gospel narrated “things … handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word” (Luke 1:1–2). Far from taking this eyewitnesses testimony for granted, however, he “carefully investigated everything from the beginning … so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:3–4).

Similarly, John’s Gospel ends with these words from its final editors: “This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true” (John 21:24). The “disciple” was an eyewitness, in other words, and his unnamed editors (“we”) vouched for his testimony. As in Luke, the purpose of the goal of this testimony was faith: “these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).

In the modern era, skeptical Bible critics have challenged the historical reliability of the first five books of the New Testament. They allege that contradictions both within and between the Gospels and Acts — and what is known about the time from external sources — call the plot of New Testament history into question. The defense of the New Testament’s historical reliability has thus revolved around demonstrating that its accounts of Jesus’ life and of the history of the Early Church are internally coherent and externally corroborated by known facts.

Lydia McGrew offers a third line of defense in her new book, Hidden in Plain View. According to her, “undesigned coincidences” in the Gospels and Acts suggest that the events they report are historically accurate because they rest on eyewitness testimony. She defines undesigned coincidences this way:

An undesigned coincidence is a notable connection between two or more accounts or texts that doesn’t seem to have been planned by the person or people giving the accounts. Despite their apparent independence, the items fit together like pieces of a puzzle.

McGrew outlines 47 such coincidences in the book. For brevity’s sake, let me focus on just one. Each of the Synoptic Gospels offers a list of the 12 apostles: Matthew 10:2–4; Mark 3:16–19; and Luke 6:14–16. These lists differ in some details, especially the order in which the writers present Andrew’s, Matthew’s, and Thaddeus’ names. And while Matthew and Mark refer to one disciple as Thaddeus, Luke refers to him as Judas, even though they’re most likely the same person.

The most interesting difference between these lists is grammatical. Mark and Luke connect each name using the Greek conjunction kai (“and”). So, “Simon and James and John and Andrew, etc.” in Mark and “Simon and Andrew and James and John, etc.” in Luke. This emphasizes the disciples as individuals. Matthew, on the other hand, uses kai to connect six sets of names. So, “Simon and Andrew, James and John, etc.” This emphasizes the disciples as pairs.

Matthew doesn’t explain why he lists the disciples as pairs, but Mark 6:7 offers a plausible suggestion: “Calling the Twelve to him, [Jesus] began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.” In other words, Matthew’s list most likely reflects the pairs of apostles that Jesus sent out in ministry, a pairing that only Mark mentions in an unrelated passage. We need both Gospels to see the whole picture.

Admittedly, this is a small detail. The historical reliability of the New Testament does not depend on this one undesigned coincidence. Still, the undesigned coincidences pile up, as McGrew demonstrates in her book. They revolve around incidental details, which suggests that they are not the results of a hoax, since hoaxers wouldn’t be so subtle. And while, theoretically, one could argue that such coincidences really are the result of pure luck, only the foolish gambler would place money on that table.

No, undesigned coincidences, taken cumulatively, suggest that the accounts of events in the Gospels and Acts have the ring of truth. They agree, not because a trickster designed them to agree (hoax) or because they just happen to agree (luck), but because they reflect the testimony of people who were there and whose reports of detail have made their way into the published narratives.

The argument from undesigned coincidences thus adds a third line of argument to those who would defend the Bible’s historical reliability: coherence, corroboration and coincidence. This third line of argument is not new, interestingly enough. It was pioneered in the 19th century by British apologists such as William Paley and J. J. Blunt. Lydia McGrew is to be congratulated for reviving it for use against the skeptical arguments of our day.

P.S. This review was written for InfluenceMagazine.com and appears here by permission.

P.P.S. If you found this review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon review page.

Review of ‘The Myth of the Non-Christian’


Myth_of_the_Non-Christian_350_coverLuke Cawley, The Myth of the Non-Christian: Engaging Atheists, Nominal Christians, and the Spiritual But Not Religious (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2016).

Have you ever purchased a baseball cap labeled, “One Size Fits All”? I have. Inevitably, it’s too big for my son’s head but too small for mine. One size doesn’t fit all.

One size doesn’t fit all in outreach to non-Christians either. Unfortunately, our evangelistic programs and apologetics arguments often act as if they do. Based on long experience in campus ministry, Luke Cawley recognizes the need for what he calls “contextual apologetics”: the “art of formulating appropriate and diverse ways of sharing Jesus, based on a thorough understanding of those with whom we are interacting.” (Cawley doesn’t draw a sharp line between evangelism and apologetics but considers them overlapping activities.)

This concern for contextual apologetics explains why Cawley opposes the use of the term non-Christian. “There’s no such thing as a non-Christian,” he writes in the book’s opening sentence. By this, he doesn’t mean that there aren’t people who don’t believe in Jesus Christ. Rather, he’s poking a hole in the way Christians categorize “non-Christians” in one-size-fits-all terms. “‘Non-Christian’ is a category so broad it is obsolete,” he writes. Atheists, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, nominal Christians, and the spiritual-but-not-religious crowd are very different from one another, after all.

Moreover, he goes on, “It’s not even something people call themselves.” In other words, the vast majority of people outside the Christian faith identify themselves in terms of what they do believe, not in terms of what they don’t believe. To effectively engage them with God for the gospel, we need to take into account what they believe, how they act, what makes them tick. This requires that we be flexible in our outreach to them. As Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 9:22, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.”

That said, Cawley identifies three broad characteristics of effective contextual apologetics: plausibility, desirability, and tangibility. Plausibility addresses the question, “Is it true?” and relies on “words and arguments.” Desirability addresses the question, “Is it attractive?” and relies on a “focus on Jesus” (whom everyone seems to find an attractive figure). Plausibility addresses the question, “Is it real?” and relies on “form, setting, and relationship.”

Though these three characteristics can be distinguished, they usually work together. One kind of question may rise to the fore, but the other kinds of questions still lurk in the background. Knowing this, the wise evangelist knows how to speak to a person in the place where they actually are (intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, etc.).

With these broad characteristics in mind, the bulk of The Myth of the Non-Christian examines three kinds of people common in the post-Christian West: spiritual but not religious, atheists, and nominal Christians. For each group, Cawley outlines “stories” that help readers understand the particular contexts of these three groups, “questions” that members of each group typically raise, and “practices” that seem to help move people in these contexts closer to Jesus.

And at the end of the day, Jesus is what contextual apologetics is all about. Cawley urges the importance of “arguing from Jesus” and “arguing toward Jesus.” The former “involves, in conversations and in talks, highlighting how Jesus and/or the Easter event might be relevant to the question in hand.” (Notice that “arguing” does not mean “shouting at” or “offering a syllogism.” Rather, Cawley means something like “engaging in face-to-face dialogue.”) Arguing toward Jesus means “highlighting how the discussion can only be resolved through a fresh investigation of him. Jesus is the endpoint of the argument.”

This doesn’t mean that contextual apologists can skip their homework, by the way. Throughout the book, Cawley emphasizes the importance of research into atheism, science, psychology, other religions, spirituality, history, and the like. To establish plausibility, we must be able to demonstrate that Christianity, properly understood, is intellectually credible. On the other hand, keeping Jesus as the argument’s endpoint reminds us that our conversations serve an overarching spiritual purpose—to move people closer to God, who has revealed himself through Christ.

I recommend The Myth of the Non-Christian to any Christian interested in evangelism and apologetics. As a vocational minister, however, I would especially recommend it to other vocational ministers and church leaders. It will help us understand the challenges in reaching post-Christian Westerners for Christ as well as best practices for doing so.

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P.S. This review first appeared at InfluenceMagazine.com.

P.P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Review of ‘Man, Myth, Messiah: Answering History’s Greatest Question’ by Rice Broocks


Man_Myth_Messiah_350_coverRice Broocks, Man, Myth, Messiah: Answering History’s Greatest Question (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2016).

“Who do you say I am?”

According to Rice Broocks, this question—which Jesus Christ asked His disciples (Matthew 16:15)—is “history’s greatest question” (emphasis in original). It can be answered in one of three ways. Jesus is man, myth, or Messiah. “The goal of this book,” Broocks writes, “is to build confidence in the reader that Jesus Christ was not only a real person but that He was the promised Messiah (Savior) and the Son of God.”

To achieve this goal, Broocks must do more than cite chapter and verse of Scripture, although that is important, of course. Rather, he must show why the traditional interpretation of Scripture—that Jesus is the divine Messiah—is the most reasonable one. This involves making arguments about, among other things, the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth, the trustworthiness of the New Testament witnesses to Him, the falseness of comparisons of Jesus to mythical figures, and the reality of miracles.

Broocks’s treatment of these arguments is introductory in nature. Readers who want to examine these arguments in greater depth would do well to examine the works Broocks cites in the endnotes. Still, Man, Myth, Messiah provides an accurate sketch of those arguments, which the endnote citations fill out in greater detail. The book is thus a good conversation starter and a reliable work of apologetics. It also constantly and seamlessly moves the reader from argument to commitment. In other words, it is apologetics in the service of evangelism. Broocks writes:

This question [i.e., who is Jesus?] underscores a key reality when it comes to a relationship with God: there is more to faith than just believing a correct version of history. While the death and resurrection of Jesus are events that can be judged historically, what still remains is an invitation into a relationship that requires a step of faith (trust).

Because of the book’s introductory character, I would recommend Man, Myth, Messiah to spiritual inquirers and/or new converts, as well as to pastors and other Christian leaders for use with those groups.

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P.S. This review first appeared at InfluenceMagazine.com.

P.P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.