Christian Living

The Resurrection. Reality or Hoax? Part 1: Examining Objections From Skeptics

I am of the strong opinion the resurrection of Christ is the single most important event not just for Christianity but in all of human history.  It is a lightning rod issue with many competing theories, views, and outright outlandish claims.  Many of these objections and disputes will be examined here, but one thing that must be clear is the importance and reality of the resurrection if it really occurred.  To paraphrase the great C.S. Lewis, either it is of supreme importance or no importance, but certainly it cannot be at any level only moderately important.

Within the Christian worldview there are countless pieces of evidence to give an answer for those who take the skeptical view. Whether one uses science to discuss the rational ideology of a Creator, archaeology to corroborate the reality of the biblical narrative, or the vast amount of historical texts and accounts to demonstrate the truth of the Christian worldview, there is and will always be a way to answer the cynic. Considering the array of information and evidence which exists, the best may still be the resurrection. It sounds like lunacy at first because people just do not arise from the dead do they? However, when the evidence is compiled and the proverbial dust settles there is great assurance the resurrection was not a hoax, hallucination, or a lie, but it was, in fact, a real historical event. This paper will seek to examine the best case for the resurrection as well as answer objections.

The importance of the resurrection cannot be overestimated. It is the single most important event in all of human history. Christians believe in the resurrection as the very cornerstone for their beliefs because for the Christian, the resurrection is not just a claim, but it is an actual event which changed everything. DeYoung notes, “There has been no more important even in history than the resurrection of the Son of God. And don’t overlook the word history in that last sentence. Christianity is an historical religion.”[1]

As has already been mentioned, the skeptic will in all likelihood not merely take the resurrection as fact upon first glance. The argument against such an event usually exists on the plane of improbability. After all, when people die they are mourned and buried, and this seems to be conclusive. The Christian does not deny this claim, and rather agrees people do not simply rest underground for a period and casually get up and resume life. It would certainly seem as if the Christian at this point is in checkmate with no further moves to play, but in fact there has been a small but wildly critical misunderstanding between the skeptic and the Christian.

While no rational person, Christian or otherwise, affirms the normality of people just dying and returning, the Christian attests Jesus was no ordinary person, and therefore his resurrection was and is not only plausible but factual. In other words, “a Christian will see that there is a defensible case for believing that God’s raising Jesus from the dead to live an unending life of glory is not the hasty act of a celestial conjurer but a rational consequence of who Jesus actually was.”[2]

Jesus is set apart from other people because while he was a real living breathing human being (which history in great detail affirms), he was also fully God. The New Testament is replete with examples of Jesus claiming deity as well as numerous other witnesses affirming the same.

Jesus performed miracles which nobody else was able to perform, but could these accounts not simply be revisionist history? It does not seem likely,

“Opponents of Jesus outside of Scripture also testify to his miracles. The Jewish Talmud charged that Jesus ‘practiced magic.’ Celsus, a strong opponent of Christianity, later repeated that claim. The Jewish historian Josephus also reported that Jesus was ‘a doer of wonderful works.’”[3] While it is certainly clear Jesus claimed to be God, what should also be clear is the affirmation of those who stood against Jesus. Nicodemus and other leaders who were vehemently angry and opposed to Jesus admitted he was a teacher from God (John 3:2), but it was not just the Jewish antagonism which made such claims as is evidenced by polytheistic centurion who acknowledged Jesus’ godhood (Matthews 27:54).[4]

It is important to establish the dual nature of Christ as both fully God and fully man (hypostatic union), and once this understanding has been reached then it becomes clear Jesus was not like any other person who ever lived or will ever live. Therefore, the resurrection does not seem nearly as far-fetched when one considers the nature of the one who was resurrected. Still, questions loom for the skeptic, and there to meet them is a mountain of substantiation.

Perhaps one of the best evidential components for the reality of the resurrection is also seemingly one of the most common sense areas: the tomb was empty. When someone in the past or present (and presumably in the future) buries a loved one, there is no debate wherever this person is interred will become the final resting place for their body. It would be alarming and unnerving to visit a cemetery and find this loved one was no longer a resident there, but this is precisely what occurred with Jesus. All historical claims and eyewitness accounts confirm the tomb in which Jesus was placed was vacant afterward.

It is critical this detail does not go discounted. The empty tomb provides strong evidence of the resurrection claim, and in fact, “it demonstrates that the resurrection of Christ was not a purely inward, interior, or subjective event, but something which left a mark upon history.”[5] The empty tomb is not merely speculative, but it is an actual and factual part of history that Jesus is not in the tomb. Now of course there are still many theories skeptics can appeal to in order to refute the empty tomb as any real tangible evidence for the resurrection.

Among the most common of these refutations is the body was moved or stolen. One theory proclaims either the Jewish or Roman authorities moved the body of Jesus to a different location, or this led the disciples to wrong surmise the resurrection of Jesus occurred. This theory does not have any data which would indicate or prove its validity, and moreover the evidence evinces the substantiation of the empty tomb as a miraculous event. Geisler verifies this by writing,

If the Romans or the Sanhedrin had the body, why did they accuse the disciples of stealing it (Matt. 28:11-15)? Such a charge would have been senseless. And if the opponents of Christianity had the body, why didn’t they produce it to stop the resurrection story? The reaction of the authorities reveals that they did not know where the body was. They continually resisted the apostles’ teaching but never attempted to refute it.[6]

It makes no sense for either of these authorities to have moved the body, and then later be unable to confirm where it was moved. If the empty tomb was not a result of the resurrection then all either the Sanhedrin or Romans need to do was produced Jesus’ body in order to completely and with finality refute the claims of something supernatural.

Still others claim it was the disciples of Jesus who moved his body in order to claim a miraculous resurrection and propagate their new religion, but this too has many fatal flaws. It is important to keep in mind the apostles were not soldiers, but the Roman centurions most certainly were well trained, efficient, and when necessary brutally unrelenting in their military prowess. It was these soldiers with whom the task of guarding the tomb of Jesus would have fallen.

Jesus was easily the most polarizing figure to have ever lived. As a response to fear his followers would move his body in order to make wild claims, the Romans were instructed to guard Jesus’ tomb with veracity. It would be unthinkable for these disciples of Jesus, who were cowering in fear about being killed themselves, would be able to summon unspeakable courage and physically overcome trained soldiers. Macfarland expands, “To think that a group of rag-tag Jewish fishermen could have overcome the heavily armed temple guard, break the seal on the tomb, roll away the huge stone, and steal the body of Jesus without anyone knowing about it defies belief.”[7]

Furthermore, if the disciples were theoretically able to overtake the Roman guard and successfully steal the body of Jesus, were they willing to die for something they knew were certainly duplicitous claims? It again does not seem likely. Not only that, but if they did steal the body successfully, where did they conceal it? These men were hiding in fear because they were concerned they would share Jesus’ fate in death, but magically their bravery grows and they find themselves nonplussed by the thought of death after making edicts about a man defeating death. Frame recognizes this as well when he says, “If the disciples had stolen the body, where did they put it? Some of them might have avoided death by revealing the hiding place, but they did not. If the event were a fraud, why were Christians willing to die for it?”[8]

It would seem like a major stretch for a person to willingly die for a claim which would be not only unsubstantiated but which is entirely fabricated as well. D.A. Carson surmises,

If you think early Christians made this up or were somehow hoodwinked or fell victims to mass psychology of some sort, it is hard to explain why they were willing to die for their faith. If the resurrection is a fairy story a bit like ‘Hansel and Gretel,’ my question is, ‘How many have offered to die for Hansel and Gretel?’ But the early Christians were willing to die for their conviction that Jesus had risen from the dead. They had seen him, touched him, handled him, eat with him, after he had risen from the dead – and they were transformed by him.[9]

[1] Kevin DeYoung, The Good News We Almost Forgot: Rediscovering the Gospel in a 16th Century Catechism (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2010), 91.

[2] John Polkinghorne and Nicholas Beale, Questions of Truth: Fifty-one Responses to Questions about God, Science, and Belief, Kindle ed (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 88.

[3] Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 225-226.

[4] Norman L. Geisler and Patty Tunnicliffe, Reasons for Belief: Easy-to-Understand Answers to 10 Essential Questions (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 2013), 139.

[5] Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 3rd ed (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2001), 401.

[6] Norman L. Geisler, The Big Book of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2012), 487.

[7] Alex Macfarland and Elmer Towns, 10 Questions Every Christian Must Answer (Nashville: B&​H Publishing Group, 2011), 98.

[8] John M. Frame, Christianity Considered: A Guide for Skeptics and Seekers (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2018), 76.

[9] D.A. Carson, The God Who Is There: Finding Your Pace in God’s Story (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2010), 163.

Christian Living

The Irrationality of Atheism Part 2: Nietzsche & Nihilism Concluded

So far the background and framework for Nietzsche’s ideologies to be birthed have been visited, as well as some of his most famous works and thoughts, so what can be said about all of this from a biblical perspective? This post will attempt to answer exactly that question.

A Biblical Response and Critique

First, it needs to be noted Christianity does not affirm Nietzsche’s view that all morality is useless or non-existent, except the will to power. This cannot be overstated. For the Christian there is an absolute cling to an absolute morality. The prophet Isaiah writes, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for the light and light for the darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter” (Isaiah 5:20; ESV). It is clear through Scripture there is a definite moral law. The Bible is replete with passages talking about the juxtaposition of right and wrong (Genesis 2:17, Titus 2:21, John 8:44, Colossians 3:21-25, etc.). As Christians, the belief is this moral law does not simply evolve or appear by chance, but rather it is intrinsically placed within us by the transcendent God of the universe (Genesis 1:27). Nietzsche’s view clearly takes a stance which declares man has ultimate meaning, and as such morality has not meaning. He desires for man to murder the idea of God in order to progress. Sproul comments, “It must be shown that what herd morality deems ‘good’ is not real virtue but mere a guise for weakness. Life is will to power and nothing else. Man must be free to exercise his own nature.”[1] This conclusion is not only empty of any hope, but it is also unfounded.

Furthermore, if “God is dead” as Nietzsche remarks, then atheism rings true, but if atheism is true then a frightening conclusion arrives. This conclusion comes in the face of nihilism. Again, the Christian faith ardently opposes the idea of nihilism because God has placed value and worth upon each and every person He creates. The factors like race, socioeconomic status, religious belief, or a person’s stature as strong or weak do not matter in terms of the worth placed on them by God. Mankind was created in the Imago Dei and because of this, mankind has meaning. But if God is not true, then does man have any actual worth? Simply put, no. If God did not create man with intrinsic value and purpose, then there is no real purpose of meaning in life, and yet the purpose of life in Nietzsche’s view is for man to create or find his purpose, then quite a conundrum exists. McFarland continues, “So, nihilism fails as a worldview, but it’s the logical outcome of atheism.”[2] If God does not exist, then, the logical conclusion must be nihilism, but the problem is nobody lives practically like a nihilist. People by and large, even atheists, live their lives with happiness, relationships, families, milestones, etc., and if this is true then nihilism must ring false.

Nietzsche also has a problem on his hands when he speaks of Christianity having some sort of link to wanting people to remain weak, and that only brute power has any worth. One need only look at examples where pity (certainly a weakness for Nietzsche) or compassion display incredible love, value, and strength. A great example of this is Jesus’ encounter with the leper. Mark writes, “Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, ‘I will; be clean’” (Mark 1:41; ESV). In essence, religious people are simply to be pitied because they do not understand their purpose, and they are helplessly tied to something making them weaker by the moment and celebrating said weakness. This view, again, is not tenable. If man is the end of himself and all things then no purpose exists anywhere else, but the book of Ecclesiastes speaks volumes against such rhetoric. Sproul again concludes, “Ecclesiastes is, in the end, a scathing critique against nihilism and those who, as we mentioned above, desire to hold on to the moral framework of Christianity while at the same time denying God’s existence.”[3]

Finally, for Nietzsche, he concludes it is Christianity which is largely responsible for violence and terror in the world, and this is because of the crippling tether to God. Horrific things occur, no doubt, but Christianity cannot be blamed as a blanket for such things. In other words, “Nietzsche was wrong in his conviction that Christianity is responsible for atrocities. While some have evoked the name of Christ as they have carried out sinful actions, a careful study of the Bible reveals that righteous living is never responsible for unjust destruction.”[4] In fact, what can be extrapolated from Nietzsche’s point of view as has already been noted, is men like Hitler can take his thoughts to a logical conclusion which lead to appalling acts and atrocities.

In conclusion, while Nietzsche cannot be underscored as major contributor to the world of philosophy, it is clear his revulsion and animosity toward Christianity and God were severely misplaced and led him in a nihilistic direction. It is clear nihilism does not and cannot be a working philosophy, and it seems necessary to close with a parting word of wisdom from Scripture, “Claiming to be wise, they became fools…” (Romans 1:22).

I hope to continue along the lines of analyzing and understanding more philosophers and their philosophies.  If there is one in particular you are interested in knowing more about, please comment who and why.

Be blessed yall.

 

Bibliography

[1] R.C. Sproul, The Consequence of Ideas: Understanding the Concepts that Shaped Our World (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2000), 165-166.

[2] Alex McFarland, 10 Answers for Atheists (Venture, CA: Regal, 2012), 47.

[3] R.C. Sproul, Defending Your Faith (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2003), 166.

[4] “A Christian Response To Nietzsche’s The Genealogy Of Morals,” Apologetics Press, accessed August 12, 2018, espanol.apologeticspress.org/​articles/​240356.

Uncategorized

The Irrationality of Atheism Part 1: Nietzsche & Nihilism

This is the first of a multi part series to show the illogical and irrational conclusion of some of the most notable and famous atheist or anti-theist philosophers.  I hope to showcase the logical conclusions of such philosophies, and then offer a response and critique to them from a biblical worldview.  The first philosopher I am attempting to showcase is Friedrich Nietzsche.

 

Nietzsche: Part 1

 

“God is dead! God remains dead! And we have killed him!”[1] Perhaps no other philosophical statement has had so broad an impact across so many different spectrums. For the atheist, it is a victory cry which is less satirical and more of a truthful statement, and for the Christian, this statement brings about a shudder and a cringe as it sounds beyond blasphemous. Whatever stirring one might have at the mere mention of the name, Nietzsche, it cannot be understated the consequence and influence his ideologies have played and continue to play today. This paper will seek to give a small biography, present the major tenants of Nietzsche’s philosophy, and analyze them from a biblical worldview.

Life and Influence

 

Before one can dive too deeply down the rabbit hole of which Nietzsche’s ideas lead, it is imperative to first know something about his background before one can gain any real understanding of the man’s philosophies. Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was born in 1844 in Saxony. Nietzsche was a descendent from a long lineage of Lutheran pastors. Even so, Nietzsche is said to have abandoned his Christian worldview and belief system at an early age.[2] This view was probably in some ways related to the tragic and early death of his father. Nietzsche in fact lived a tumultuous and difficult early life, and this no doubt shaped his major themes, demeanor, worldview, and subsequent philosophies.

He was a brilliant student of both theology and philology, but by 1865 he began truly studying under his favorite teacher, Friedrich Ritschl.[3] Nietzsche later became good friends with famed composer Richard Wagner. The relationship the two shared would be akin to a father and son relationship in many ways. As Nietzsche continued to gain prominence and a wider audience with his new and interesting, although absolutely controversial, dogmas he began to decline in both physical and mental health. Most people close to him believe he contracted syphilis.

Sadly, for Nietzsche it was not so much the physical ails which snubbed out his life, but it was rather mental deterioration. By 1889 Nietzsche was already demonstrating signs of insanity, but this reached a fever pitch when he saw a horse being beaten and thrust his arms around the neck of the horse and collapsed to the ground. He was ultimately treated at a clinic in Basel. He would endure a decade of madness, in which he would not discuss or comment on his earlier and quite famous philosophical tenants. While he was mostly calm and often lucid, reports from nurses and friends who visited him remarked at other moments he was frenzied and rather hectic. Finally, in 1900 at only 56 years of age, Friedrich Nietzsche passed away.

There is some sense of irony in Nietzsche’s apparent turn to madness and incoherence and the main character of one of his most famous works as cited earlier, The Madman. In truth, the oft quoted and misquoted words of the madman are in many ways what Nietzsche, at least in many circles, is most famous for writing. The one who is only nominally familiar with the philosopher’s work and worldview might simply reflect on Nietzsche as the author and purveyor of a satirical work which exists to promote his atheistic stance. However, if one only does a little digging, it is clear Nietzsche’s work is far more elaborate and influential than a piece of prose.

Nietzsche’s philosophy would be largely developed, at least early on, by his admiration and study of Schopenhauer. Nietzsche had great respect for Schopenhauer, although he would later disavow Schopenhauer’s ideologies. When he first began his infamous breakup with Christianity, Nietzsche was enamored as R.J. Hollingdale writes, “When he broke away from Christianity and religion, Nietzsche spoke of setting sail upon a sea of doubt, from the midst of which one would often long for firm land again: Schopenhauer was firm land upon which he temporarily came to rest.”[4]

After Nietzsche parted ways with Wagner and then Schopenhauer, he inevitably found Darwin. For Nietzsche, Darwin was fascinating because all things were simply passed down as purely animal instinct, and this of course corroborated in his mind the negation for a God to exist. The appeal for Nietzsche became the meaninglessness of all things, including life. This would have a profound impact on Nietzsche for the rest of his life as he adopted the view on nihilism.

Nietzsche would also derive a great deal of his philosophy from the ancient Greeks. Most notably perhaps, he began to see from the Greek culture a prominent idea which he regarded as a necessity, and that was that every culture (if they are to be on a higher level that is) must have at some level a slave society. These are people who serve no purpose other than being slaves and must learn their place and instead of attempting an escape. Nietzsche was also convinced that through Greek tragedy and life the underpinnings of genius could be found in and because of war. In fact, Safranski says, “Greek antiquity served as Nietzsche’s model of how war benefited culture…the necessary association of ‘battlefield and artwork’ (7,344) reveals the truth about culture.”[5]

Hopefully at this point there has been at least a template set for understanding (granted at a rudimentary level) a base for what would become some of the most aggressive and influential atheistic philosophy ever penned. It is now imperative to move from the foundational parts Nietzsche’s philosophy and arrive at some of the most prominent teachings and thoughts of the man. For the purpose of this writing, only a couple of his main tenants and writings will be addressed, and the one with the greatest notoriety is that of the God-myth and the “Superman.”

 

Notable Philosophies and Works

 

First, Nietzsche decrees God, most notably the Christian God, cannot and could not have ever existed. His argument for this arises from Nietzsche’s conclusion that this God must by definition be uncaused. He is unable to reconcile this and sees this as an impossible thing. He was also unable to understand how evil continued to exist, or even why it existed at all, if this God was supposedly benevolent. In other words, Nietzsche is asking what has become for many atheists, non-theists, and anti-theists, the juggernaut of all questions which can be asked of Christians.

For Nietzsche, culture, especially that of earlier times certainly enjoyed the God-myth, but his view is since culture has now advanced and society has moved on, the need for God has vanished as well. This obviously has a profound impact on the world and its inhabitants. If God does not exist then the world and the material therein is all that exists, and in fact, all that matters. Further, Nietzsche would regard the belief in God as not just unnecessary, but this belief would actually become hostile to life. Geisler remarks,

There is no God to which we must be faithful. Hence, each person is exhorted to ‘remain faithful to the earth.’ For Nietzsche viewed God ‘as the declaration of war against life, against nature…the deification of nothingness, the will of nothingness pronounced holy’…Indeed, Christianity ‘is the greatest of all conceivable corruptions…I call it the one immortal blemish of mankind.’[6]

It is quite clear for Nietzsche a belief in God is not only foolish, but it is detrimental to the growth of individuals and the society as a whole. This view clearly has bedrocks in the Darwinian camp. Nietzsche called for people to not rely on the Christian values and ideas of moral good and evil, but he rather called them to go beyond this and focus only on the material world.

Other than The Madman, perhaps Nietzsche’s other most famous work would that of The Antichrist. This thought would largely extend from the Darwinian model yet again. As noted previously, Nietzsche would argue society and mankind must not focus on the properly understood idea of Christian morality but must move past such thoughts. The question must be posed then, if these principles of morality are abandoned, where should man arrive instead? In The Antichrist Nietzsche seeks to answer this question by claiming power and weakness are the only things which have any real meaning and sentiment. He writes,

What is good? – Everything that enhances people’s feeling of power, will to power, power itself. What is bad? – The feeling that power is growing, that some resistance has been overcome. Not contentedness, but more power; not peace, but war; not virtue, but prowess…The weak and the failures should perish: first principle of our love of humanity. And they should be helped to do this. What is more harmful than any vice? – Active pity for all failures and weakness – Christianity.[7]

Nietzsche obviously is not just ambivalent of God or Christianity, but unmistakably he is behaving with grave antagonism for them both. His great accusation against God and Christianity is for those who are the weak, Christianity offers a defense or protection, and any belief in the spiritual is unfounded because the spiritual violates the natural.

Nietzsche’s indignation for Christianity or any belief in the spiritual (much less God) is palpable. He would equate all people who ascribe to any such idea as stupid and weak. Since God and the spiritual have met their demise, then what, if anything, replaces them according to Nietzsche? The answer comes in the Superman. Nietzsche is clearly not referring to Clark Kent or a man who flies around in the iconic red and blue saving citizens from harm, but he is speaking of a different kind of powerful Superman.

It has already been stated Nietzsche regarded power as the supreme meaning of all things. Nietzsche is brazen in his thinking that power is the ultimate goal of an individual, and the individual should do anything possible to gain said power. This is not meant to be merely a hypothetical thought for Nietzsche, but it is instead an absolute. It only makes sense in light of what has already been discussed, but Nietzsche evidently believes morality is subjective, and so is truth. If man embraces these truths the ultimate conclusion is nihilism. Nihilism is of course the philosophy of ultimate meaninglessness and nothingness. Nothing has meaning and nothing matters. It is in this mode of thinking and being where Nietzsche sees the Superman emerging.

Man is ultimately only a step above the other animals on the evolutionary spectrum (again the nod to Darwin), and as such finds himself tied inextricably to things of a spiritual connotation or religious belief. Man must sever this tie and instead recognize himself as the only concern possible. The Superman, however, cannot actually be achieved, but rather it is a relative understanding of becoming a Superman. Howey concludes, “With the doctrine of the Superman we get the other half of Nietzsche’s theory of man – man understood as a possibility.”[8] This possibility, should he ever exist is not a man which would invoke awe, but he would rather petition terror from anyone with whom he might encounter. In other words, “The Superman, Nietzsche tells us, is a warrior, a conqueror, a concentration of ego, who cares only for himself and his agenda.”[9] The Superman cares for no one and nothing other than achieving power by any means necessary. This means not only is morality subjective, but human life, as is evident by a nihilistic philosophy, is deemed meaningless and possesses no real value.

The consequences of such an idea cannot go unnoticed. Nietzsche’s ideas would be understood and believed by many, but in one particular case a man would use the idea of a Superman and give himself the authority to decide which, if any, human life mattered. He would use this idea to march across Europe leaving destruction, death, and heartbreak in his wake. He would commit genocide on an insane scale all in an attempt to actualize and realize the Superman. This man’s name, of course, would be Adolf Hitler. Esteemed apologist and scholar, Ravi Zacharias, posits,

So profound and operative was Nietzsche’s philosophy upon Hitler that it provided the conceptual framework for his demagogical onslaught to obliterate the weak and inferior of this world. That being done, Hitler would establish the supremacy of the “superman” in an unobstructed and dominant role. Hitler also personally presented a copy of Nietzsche’s work to Benito Mussolini.[10]

Andrew Pessin also notes, “For, quite infamously, Nietzsche’s philosophy became something like the official philosophy of the Nazis, and we all know what followed from that.”[11]

It is clear what the logical conclusion of Nietzsche’s philosophy can lead people. This is not to say anyone who has a leaning toward Nietzsche is a Hitler sympathizer, but it is paramount to understand his philosophies can drive people toward creating their purpose and meaning or else dive into the dark annals of nihilism, and in such a framework, what value does human life have at any level? The answer of course is none.

Bibliography

[1] Friedrich Nietzsche and Thomas Common, The Gay Science: With a Prelude in Rhymes (Overland Park, KS: Digireads, 2018), 104.

[2] Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy Volume VII: Modern Philosophy from the Post Kantian Idealists to Marx, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche (New York: Doubleday, 1994), 390.

[3] Walter A. Kaufmann and Alexander Nehamas, Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013), 24.

[4] R.J. Hollingdale, Nietzsche: The Man and His Philosophy, rev. ed (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 199), 67.

[5] Rudiger Safranski, Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography (New York: W.W. Norton &​ Company, 2003), 71.

[6] Norman L. Geisler, The Big Book of Christian Apologetics: An A to Z Guide (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2012), 402.

[7] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ, Ecce Homo, Twilight of the Idols, and Other Writings, ed. Aaron Ridley and Judith Norman, trans. Judith Norman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 4.

[8] R.L. Howey, Heidegger and Jaspers on Nietzsche: A Critical Examination, illustrated ed (Berlin: Springer Science &​ Business Media, 2012), 131.

[9] Barry Loewer, ed., 30-Second Philosophies: The 50 Most Thought-Provoking Philosophies, Each Explained in Half a Minute (East Sussex, UK: Ivy Press, 2009), 144.

[10] Ravi Zacharias, The Real Face of Atheism (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2004), 26.

[11] Andrew Pessin, Uncommon Sense: The Strangest Ideas From the Smartest Philosophers (Lanham, MD: Rowman &​ Littlefield, 2012), 148.

Christian Living, Uncategorized

Understanding Apologetics Part 1: A Light in the Darkness – What Method Do I Use?

Author’s Note:

This post is meant to explain my own personal view and use of apologetics.  It should be noted I am not advocating for only the styles represented here, but instead hope each Christian will use whatever tools they have at their disposal to make much of the name of Jesus.  – Dylan

——————————————————————————————————————–

As Christians, there are freedoms and rights we are afforded in Christ. The grace offered by Jesus brings us not only salvation and mercy, but also great joy; for the Christian Jesus, has broken the bonds of slavery and the yoke of oppression. We are able to enjoy this freedom within the confines of obedience. Truly, possibly and certainly the bubble of obedience is pierced we find ourselves treading on our own versions of truth which is an appallingly precarious place. Following the instruction given to us from the authority of the Bible, remains one of these particular truths. Be willing and ready to give a defense for the faith to which we cling. O of the epistles of Peter offers an excellent example, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…”(1 Peter 3:15; ESV).

For the Christian, defending and proclaiming our hope, our joy, our love, and the truth found in Jesus is not optional. This is why apologetics is not just a discipline for the scholarly or those in vocational ministry, but rather a branch of knowledge that all people who are under the banner of Christ are called to examine.  A question I’ve gotten time and again is “how do we do apologetics, and what style should we use?”  There are essentially four common apologetics methods: 1. Classical, 2. Presuppositional, 3. Evidential, and 4. Case Cumalitive.  All of these offer different approaches, but all of them agree that apologetics is not discretionary, in fact, “If you’re God’s, to tell yourself you can’t do what you’ve been called to do is to preach private heresy. You’ve been enabled by grace.”[1] With the culture in which we now live, there is an ever-increasing assault on the meaning of truth. Moral relativism and even nihilism are nearing a fever pitch. Nevertheless, the evidence seems to indicate that even those who reject the truth are still searching for some semblance of it, and realizing even when they run from truth, they unwittingly understand at some base level truth will always be present. Douglas Groothius notes:

Truth seems to stand over us as a kind of silent referee, arms folded confidently, ears open, eyes staring intently and authoritatively into everything and missing nothing. Even when an important truth seems out of reach on vital matters, we yearn for it and lament its invisibility, as we yearn for a long-lost friend or the parent we never knew. Yet when the truth unmasks and convicts us, and we refuse to return its gaze, we would rather banish it in favor of our own self-serving and protective version of reality.[2]

If Christians know the truth,  it stands to reason we are the harbingers of such immense news. The question then is not should we know and defend our beliefs, but how do we accomplish such a task?

Christians are divided over many issues including doctrine, denomination, ordinances, etc. It should be no wonder that apologetic methodology is included in this seemingly expanding list. There are a few main apologetics methods that are used by both lay people and scholars, and each of these methods holds certain benefits and downsides. The good news is the Christian has a significant volume of material from which to draw. I have been engaging actively in apologetics for nearly a decade now, and I have used the primary methods of apologetics at different ventures and with different audiences. However, there are two distinct styles or methods of apologetics which I use with greater frequency than the others.

It should be noted that I am doctrinally aligned with the reformed or Calvinist (as it is commonly known) view on Scripture and Christianity. Many Calvinists assert the only acceptable and Scriptural method of apologetics is the presuppositional model. This method was popularized most notably by Cornelius Van Til and Greg Bahnsen. The primary understanding of the presuppositional method is the Christian is not to use logic or reason outside of the strictly Christian worldview, but rather the argument must be made to the atheist or anti-theist that their worldview can actually only be understood by the lens of Christianity.

In other words, all rational thought can only be understood and thereby explained from a biblical point of view, and anyone seeking to claim they understand such things, must presuppose the Bible and Christianity are true. Bahnsen articulates the following, “The Christian can show that the particular objections raised by the unbeliever would, within the Christian outlook, not prove to be legitimate objections or intellectual problems at all. Thus who really “knows” what he is talking about, the Christian or the non-Christian.”[3]

This method is proven by many adherents and has been quite fruitful for me on a numerous occasions. I have most often used this method with people who have some foundational information regarding Christianity. These are people who perhaps were once parishioners of a Christian church or maybe even at one point claimed orthodox Christianity as truth, but they have now rejected the biblical claims and have become either agnostic or in extreme cases embrace a view like Gnosticism. I really enjoy this method when dealing with individuals who have a basic grasp on the Christian worldview yet reject it because I am able to use their knowledge to show them why their new version of truth is in fact erroneous. If I can pinpoint how their ideology is not only untenable and the Christian worldview truly is the only possible way to legitimize rational thought then a great blow has lands on the non-believer.

Using the presuppositional method provokes the non-believer to understand or at least consider their claim and framework may be fallacious. Their worldview becomes at best inconsistent or contradictory and at worst unviable options altogether. Perhaps the best success with the presuppositional method for me has come when the person with whom I am dialoguing is not an anti-theist but rather a person from a different religious background such as Islam or Mormonism. In cases like this I am pointing out inconsistencies within the varying religious texts. These are found by showcasing how and where these other texts borrowed from and then departed from the Bible. Cross examining this kind of rationale with the Bible in a presuppositional way provides evidence for a mistaken worldview, and it provides evidence through Scripture with accuracy and honesty.

On several occasions, I have offered answers to Muslim friends by way of presuppositionalism. One of the primary ways I have been able to accomplish this is by invalidating the truth of the Qur’an by not only offering evidence of the contradiction and fallacy found within its pages, but I follow up with the reasonable and logical consistencies of the Bible. One might argue that Islam and Christianity could be engaged in a classic version “your word against mine”, but this too can be defeated because both holy texts differ in critical ways. Again, to quote Bahnsen, “Islam can be critiqued on its own presuppositions…The Koran acknowledges the words of Moses, David, and Jesus to be the words of prophets sent by Allah – in which case the Koran may be, on its own terms, refuted because of its contradictions with earlier revelation (cf. Deuteronomy 13:1-5).”[4]

This same methodology proves helpful and effective in dialoging with members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS), or Mormons, as they are commonly known. I have an absolute passion when it comes to conversations with Mormons. For reasons unbeknownst to me God has laid upon my heart both a love and passion for reaching the member of the LDS church. I seek out these conversations as often as I can, and even try to make the trip to Salt Lake City at least once a year. My approach to speaking with Mormons is a presuppositional approach. Again, pointing out discrepancies and illogicalities within their holy books is not only a good idea, but it is essential. In the case of Mormonism, for example, there are over 27,000 words directly plagiarized from the Bible.[5] It is clear how using a presuppositional approach with members of the LDS church is both effective and necessary.

Another great example of presuppositional thinking when dealing with Mormons has to do with what their founder, Joseph Smith, pronounced. He claims that after the time of the apostles, the church went into a dark and apostate age and remained in such a state until he [Smith] was given the restored and true religion via, proxy: an angel named Moroni. This is not only inconsistent, but it stands in blatant obstruction to the words of Jesus. Ron Rhodes clarifies this by stating, “There is no indication in Scripture that there would be a time when the entire church would fall away from the word of the Lord that ‘endures forever.’”[6] The same approach can be used by pointing out the contradiction between the claim of an angel giving Smith the true and restored gospel and Paul’s claim, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8; ESV).

It is clear presuppositional methodology offers a great sense of direction and a wealth of logic through Scripture. Using this approach has garnered effectiveness when talking to most theists. It can also be effective when talking to non-theists. I have often maintained, while conversing with atheists the irrational foundations on which their worldviews are predicated. Asserting the Christian worldview alone offers answers to the logical and philosophical quandaries to which they are espoused. For instance, if the Christian worldview is wrong and God is simply a man-made creation, nothing matters. Sproul agrees by asserting, “Without God, nihilism, as nonsensical as it is, makes more sense than a hybrid humanism or any other intermediate position…God’s existence is the chief element in constructing any worldview. To deny this chief premise is to set one’s sails for the island of nihilism…the ultimate paradise of the fool.”[7]

However, as much as I love presuppositional apologetics and the approach of its methodologies, I often find myself not adhering strictly to this approach independently. I am also a proponent for the classical apologetic methodology. The classical apologetics approach can be understood as the validity of theism through rational arguments, claims, and then use of historical evidence to garner support for the claims of the Bible and Christianity.[8] The list of most influential and famous classical apologists contain the names of C.S. Lewis, William Lane Craig, J.P. Moreland, B.B. Warfield, and R.C. Sproul.

As a Calvinist, I am often critiqued and in special cases rebuked for using such a method. The main reason for this occurrence is “classical apologists do not hold that we must presuppose the Christian God in order to know anything.”[9] The idea that God is the Author of all knowledge is certainly an undeniable claim, but the presupposition that no knowledge may be had independently of the Christian God is an unverifiable claim.

The presuppositional approach would mandate no talk of logic or philosophy until the person with whom you are dialoging acknowledges their error that logic and philosophy can be understood only and totally through the Christian worldview. In contrast, the classical approach argues a person can use reason and logic to arrive at the conclusion of Christian theism, the strict presuppositionalist maintains until the skeptic admits their foolishness and agrees with Christian worldview as the chief truth, then no logic or reasoning should be entertained even at the perfunctory level.

Although many Calvinist look at classical apologetics in a pejorative context fellow Calvinist and classical apologist, the late R.C. Sproul, surmises,

If one is going to reason with people who will never admit, or even appreciate, your reasoning it seems reasonable to abandon reasoning. But there is a very good reason for reasoning with people who will not accept reasons, who will use all their intellectual energy to refute reasons, and who will only spurn reasons they fail to refute. That very good reason is this: God commands Christians to give a reasoned defense of the Christian religion.[10]

An example of reasoning and a motivation for my embracing the classical apologetic methodology occurs when I am challenged by atheism. On several occasions, the point has been made by the atheist that all things are accidental and happen because of a random, blind, and unguided process. In fact, renowned atheist Richard Dawkins puts it this way, “All appearances to the contrary, the only watchmaker in nature is the blind forces of physics, albeit deployed in a very special way. A true watchmaker has foresight: he designs his cogs and springs, and plans their interconnections, with a future purpose in his mind’s eye. Natural selection…has no purpose in mind.”[11] What Dawkins, and many atheists for that matter, argue is despite the best evidence there is absolutely no proof for the existence of God. Using classical apologetics I can seek to refute this fallacy by posing some logical assertions.

Let me explain. One argument I could make would be that of causality. If Dawkins and other atheists are correct, then evolution is the primary mechanism by which life emerged, but where and how did it start? The answer lies in spontaneous generation. It sounds fine on the surface. The universe was primed and earth was in a perfect place in regards to location, temperature, and necessary elements (hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, etc.). Because of this perfect balance life spontaneously burst onto the scene. The problem with this assertion is that even science disavows this happening according the Laws of Thermodynamics. So the atheist is left with quite a bit of explaining. Either he denies the laws of physics in exchange for a biological theory (and a poor one to boot) and deny any causality, or he must retort and contemplate further.

To take this a step further the atheist, just like all people, is an effect of a cause. All people have biological parents that caused them to come into existence. No human being, or any other biological creature, causes their own existence. The reason we come to this obvious conclusion is because obviously a person does exist, but there is also a possibility of nonexistence. In other words, “in order to cause one’s own existence one must simultaneously exist and not exist, which is impossible.”[12]

If I am able to show an inconsistency or wrinkle in the atheist’s logic then it can be expounded upon. A preferred method I use in connection with the classical approach is that of objective morality. For the atheist, if everything is blind process, then no objective morality can exist and thus no tangible definition of right and wrong survives. All morality and ethics are subjective. Raping a child and taking a bullet to protect another person are on equal footing. However, if theism is true then it explains how we can feel and sense certain things are good and others are inherently bad. Esteemed Christian philosopher William Lane Craig regards it this way, “To kill someone or to love someone is morally equivalent. For in a universe without God, good and evil do not exist – there is only the bar, valueless fact of existence, and there is no one to say you are right and I am wrong.”[13] For the atheist even if their response is, “Yes. That is true,” they already admit the error contained within this line of thinking. Chiefly without objective morality the atheist is unable to articulate the correct nature of their position or conversely the wrong nature of mine.

Another key reason for my bent toward classical apologetics is the miraculous nature of the resurrection. If I am able to prick pinholes in the atheistic view where no God exists and at least move them toward theism, I am able to really talk about biblical accuracy and the claim of the resurrection. This is the most important event in all of history because if the resurrection is true and Jesus really did walk out of the grave it changes literally everything for people. The non-theist will most likely deny the resurrection because it denotes a move from naturalism to supernaturalism. A common argument I have heard is the resurrection claims in the gospel of John were given much later and therefore had an ulterior motive to propagate Christianity. This presents a problem though because if the resurrection narrative was invented later to convince others of the truth of Jesus, why did the narrative include not only women, but Mary Magdalene? “An invented story, made as convincing and airtight as possible, would never have used such a dubious woman; it would surely have had men as the discoverers of the empty tomb. Accordingly, the case for the empty tomb looks strong.”[14]

Numerous other factors exist which lends evidence to the resurrection. Over 500 witnesses who saw the risen Christ and extra-biblical historians are just two more pieced of evidence for the empty tomb. Using a classical approach I am able to navigate the contesting of this miracle (and all miracles) by necessitating the Bible is true and history and archaeology affirm this claim. It is at this point where often the atheist moves from a resolute hardened approach in a denial of God’s existence to a possibility that perhaps the evidence says otherwise. Archaeology has done a marvelous job at corroborating the biblical claims. Gerstner writes,

That is to say, in very many instances what men have though was not and could not be true, archaeology has shown could be and was true. Incident after incident, custom after custom, narrative after narrative have been substantiated by the spade. The Bible has not only ‘come alive,’ but it has come with a new ring of historical authenticity. The stones have indeed cried out their hosannahs.[15]

Historical accuracy and archaeology only help the argument of Christian theism. In fact it should bolster certain levels of excitement for historians and skeptics to look into the authenticity of not only the biblical stories but also the truths therein. To quote the late Dr. Sproul once more, “If any area of biblical scholarship has given us reason for optimism concerning the reliability of Scripture, it is the area of historical investigation.”[16]

Using the classical approach of apologetics, I am able to facilitate a discussion between the non-theist and myself where we can discuss logical, scientific, and philosophical rationale. The aim is to show the erroneous nature of atheism and move the skeptic to recognize the probability of theism. By using this methodology I am able to bring rationalism and faith on a collision course. It truly is an outstanding and useful tool.

In conclusion, I stand in many ways as one who gives much praise and admiration to the presuppositional apologetic method. I believe it has inherent strength at getting skeptics to recognize and admit their preconditions are flawed, but I also strongly admire and practice the classical approach. Once again, my preferred style could best be described as a hybrid of the two approaches. Both possess value, worth, and are effective and useful. My personal philosophy is not to get so caught up in the method that I leave no room for the Maker. The Holy Spirit cannot be stopped and ultimately His will be done. To argue God can only use one style of apologetics makes less of God and places Him in a position of limitations; however the prophet Jeremiah writes, “There is none like You, O LORD; You are great, and great is Your name in might” (Jeremiah 10:6; ESV).

 

 

[1] Paul David Tripp, New Morning Mercies (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014), 171.

[2] Douglas Groothuis, “Why Truth Matters Most: An Apologetic For Truth-seeking In Postmodern Times,” Journal of Evangelical Theological Society 47, no. 3 (2004, September): 441.

[3] Greg Bahnsen, “Presuppositional Procedure,” Penpoint 7, no. 8 (1996, September).

[4] Greg Bahnsen, “Presuppositional Reasoning With False Faiths,” Answers In Genesis (blog), accessed July 13, 2018, http://www.answersingenesis.org/​apologetics/​presuppositional-reasoning-with-false-faiths/​.

[5] Ron Rhodes and Marian Bodine, Reasoning from the Scriptures With the Mormons (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1995), 121.

[6] Ibid., 47.

[7] R.C. Sproul, The Consequence of Ideas: Understanding the Concepts that Shaped Our World (Wheaton: Crossway, 2000), 171.

[8] Norman L. Geisler, The Big Book of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2012), 93.

[9] Brian K. Morley, Mapping Apologetics: Comparing Contemporary Approaches, kindle ed (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2015), 183.

[10] Robert Charles Sproul, John Gerstner, and Arthur Lindsley, Classical Apologetics: A Rational Defense of the Christian Faith and a Critique of Presuppositional Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 17.

[11] Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design (New York: W.W. Norton &​ Company, Inc., 1986), 9.

[12] Norman L. Geisler, Christian Apologetics, 2nd ed. Kindle (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 288.

[13] William Lane Craig, On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision, 1st ed (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2010), 35.

[14] Stephen T. Davis, Rational Faith: A Philosopher’s Defense of Christianity (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2016), 72-73.

[15] John H. Gerstner, Reasons For Faith, Kindle ed (New York: Harper &​ Brothers Publishers, 2016), 78.

[16] R.C. Sproul, Reason to Believe, 2nd ed (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), 26.