GC:engage

GCengage: If God is so good, why are his people so bad?

There is a growing question in our culture: why do God’s people do so many bad things in his name?  Christopher Hitchens wrote the book that captured the overall sentiment ( God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything), but plenty of other voices have chimed in. How do we respond in a way that is both truthful and kind?

First, we need to own up to the fact that Christians are capable of hurtful, mean, hypocritical and even evil actions. Scott Smith calls this The Problem of People. We see them on the news constantly: Westboro Baptist picketers, TV preachers who make thoughtless comments, pastors who preach purity while carrying on affairs, churches that cover up scandals. It may even be the Christian neighbor who talks about controversial social issues without compassion. It may be us. No matter the situation, it's a problem that must be acknowledged humbly.

Second, it’s important to remember that this behavior contradicts the life and teaching of Christ. Read the Gospels and see if Jesus modeled any of this. Our goal is to be like Jesus, not his frail followers. Our claim is that Christianity is true, even though some people treat it casually or distort it for their own goals. Christianity, if followed sincerely, should not lead to wrongdoing. 

Third, as frustrating as the problem is, Christians are not the only ones who have to answer for behavioral problems. Bad people are everywhere. Every group has representatives that embarrass the rest. Every movement has people or situations that don’t reflect the stated ideals of the organization. PETA euthanizes animals; environmentalist spokespeople hypocritically pollute. Christians don’t claim that Christ removes our humanity when we commit to him; our claim is that he is helping to make us better people than we could be on our own. The question is not if every Christian lives consistently. They clearly don’t. The question is if Christianity is true. Christianity should be judged based on what it claims to be true and how it challenges us to live, not on how some followers undermine the goals.

Fourth, the teaching of the Bible and the example of Jesus provide a standard of moral conduct. It’s one reason we agree with skeptics that unjustified violence, hypocrisy, and meanness are wrong. Jesus said that all God’s laws were accomplished by loving God and our neighbor. He told parables about Good Samaritans and the Prodigal Sons. He lived a life that was above reproach. If we are truly following Christ, our lives should reflect our allegiance.

The Bible claims that if we take Jesus seriously, we can be changed because of his death and resurrection. F.F. Bruce said, “Those who have been justified (saved from the penalty of sin) are now being sanctified (freed from the power of sin). However, if we don’t take Jesus seriously, there is no reason to believe we will feel this transformative impact. Jesus used a farming analogy when he said that his followers would be recognized by their fruit. Bruce went on to say, “Those who have no experience of present sanctification have no reason to suppose they have been justified.” 

No belief system ought to be judged by people who abuse it or refuse to take it seriously. We need to acknowledge the behavior of unChrist-like Christians, but remember that the duplicity of some does not mean the truth claims of Christianity or the person of Christ are in some way falsified. 

Read the previous post in this series

 GCengage: Do Pain and Evil Disprove God?

GCengage: Do Pain and Evil Disprove God? (A New Testament Perspective)

Scripture never assumes that God must explain to us why He brings about or permits the things  He does (read Job, for example). However, the New Testament writers spend quite a bit of time talking with the early church about how to understand how God uses the presence of pain and suffering in the world to bring about good in His Kingdom.

 Paul writes a lot about the intersection of life with God in the midst of suffering. He was certainly qualified:

“To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless.  And we labor, working with our own hands.  Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; being defamed, we entreat.  We have been made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things until now” (1 Corinthians 4:11-13).

As we read Paul's letters in the New Testament, we see a number of principles unfold. Paul does not ask, "Why?!" Paul simply assumes that in this world we will have trouble; he was looking for they ways in which Christ helps us to overcome the worst the world can throw our way. 

God uses pain to build our character.

  • “…tribulations work patience, and patience experience, and experience hope” (Romans 5:3-4).  
  • God used Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12), to fight pride and self-sufficiency,
  • Peter talked about the “genuineness of faith” as it is “tested by fire” (1 Peter 1:7)

Suffering molds us more into the image of God. In order for us to experience patience, compassion, mercy, grace, and sacrificial love—both to see them in God and develop them in ourselves—don’t we have to experience evil and suffering? How could it be otherwise? These attributes, once developed, can last forever—long after evil has disappeared. 

 God uses pain to develop a desire for relationships with God and others.  

  • Jesus “withdrew to a lonely place” to mourn a loss (John 11:34), was filled with anguish (Matthew 26:38), and was acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3).  Perhaps that is why Psalm 34:18 says he is “near to the brokenhearted.”  He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7) because he has been there.
  • Paul said his suffering was “for the sake of the body, which is the church” (Colossians 1:24).  They enabled him to “comfort those who are in trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:4).
  • Our suffering enables us to more fully “bear another’s burdens, and so fulfill the Law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).  

 Phillip Yancey has noted that asking  “Where is God?” is not as important as asking, “Where is the church when it hurts?” This is a great question. If the church carried out its mission effectively, people would probably not be asking this question of God quite so much. Our pain in broken world should be met with the comfort of Christ and His people.

 God uses pain to help us focus on the life to come.  

  • “Do not lose heart,” said Paul, “for our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but the things which are not seen.  For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
  • “Our present suffering are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).

 Suffering reminds us of life’s brevity and our closing window of opportunity to get right with our Creator.  Hardship can help us to trust God  in ways we are not prone to do when life is smooth and easy. One day, God will wipe all tears from our eyes; one day, there will be no more sickness, sorrow, or death. One day, we can experience life in its fullness. When creation groans, we long for redemption.

God uses pain to “make known the riches of His glory” (Romans 9:23; 2 Corinthians 4:7).  

  • After Joseph was sold into slavery, he told his brothers years later, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:19-20).
  • Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works together for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  

 This is not saying that God makes bad things happens so he can show up and be amazing. As both Joseph and Paul note, God's glory is seen when He is able to bring beauty from the ashes of our circumstances. 

Jesus’ Death and Resurrection show His love and power (Romans 9:23; 2 Corinthians 4:7).  

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only son, so that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but will have eternal life. For God did not send His son into the world to condemn, the world, but to save it.” (John 3:16-17).

We see in two verses the response to those who questions God's love, power or knowledge.  Because God is love, He is willing to endure the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of the world.  Because He's omnipotent, he can save the entire world, offering a total and complete redemption. Because He is omniscient, He knows what it will take to give us new life now and eternal life in the future.

Though God has revealed a tremendous amount of His character and wisdom, by no means can we expect to grasp the depth or immensity of the ways of God on this side of Heaven.  The potential goodness of specific instances of pain may not seem easily matched to the reasons listed above, and one should not expect them all to be.  However, we have hope that one day they will be understood.   

“For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part, then I will know fully” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

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Recommended Resources:

Intellectuals Don’t Need God, by Alister McGrath

The Problem of Pain, by C.S. Lewis.

Evidence for God, edited by William Dembski and Michael Licona.

Where Is God When It Hurts? Phillip Yancey

“A Good Reason for Evil,” by Greg Koukl.

“No Other Name: A Middle Knowledge Perspective on the Exclusivity of Salvation Through Christ,” by William Lane Craig.

“Do Evil and Suffering Disprove the Existence of God?” by Michael Horner.

GCengage: Do Pain and Evil Disprove God? (Three Talking Points)

(Read Part One: Do Pain and Evil Disprove God? Two Skeptical Challenges) 

#1 Everyone has to deal with the problem of evil

Everyone seems to agree: something has gone horribly wrong. Existence could be different; maybe it even ought to be different. Wherever we look in the world, and in every corner of the past we find suffering, and we don’t like it. In other words, the problem of evil is a universal human issue. Christians are often challenged with the presence of evil, but we are not the only ones who need to give an answer.

If we leave God and accept atheism, has our problem gone away? Not at all! In this case, evil, pain and suffering still exist, and we still don’t know why! Well-known philosopher Bertrand Russell famously said, “No one can sit at the bedside of a dying child and still believe in God.” This is an understandably difficult situation. But William Lane Craig has some questions of his own. He asked:

“What is Bertrand Russell going to say when he is kneeling at the bed of a dying child?" … 'Tough luck? Too bad? That’s the way it goes? That’s all that’s left for him...'  You see, as an atheist, Russell has nothing to offer. Because if there is no God then we are trapped in a world filled with senseless and unreadable suffering with absolutely no hope from deliverance of evil.”

Atheism does not provide an answer to the problem; it merely eliminates one of the solutions. Children still die, forests still burn, and hurricanes still destroy. Atheism doesn’t remove suffering; it merely removes hope.

 Eastern religions believe that pain and suffering are illusory. They don’t exist. We’re just floating in the Matrix and merely have perceptions of pain and suffering. Their answer is to ignore it because it isn’t real. That hardly sounds helpful. Anyone who has experienced pain and suffering knows how absolutely real it is. Can you imagine telling the parent of a dying child that their child only appeared to be in pain? 

 Humanity is presented with what often looks like a long, dark tunnel. Atheism asks us to accept the tunnel. Eastern religions tell us that the tunnel may seem dark, but it isn’t real. Christianity admits that he tunnel is sometimes dark, but there is a light at the end. The tunnel is real, but it is not permanent. It can be painful, but it will end – and in the meantime we are not alone. In short, Christianity offers one thing no other worldview can: hope.

#2 Natural forces are not evil.

In the Christian worldview, God set up the world – and it was good. Since then, entropy has taken over. Everything dies. Iron rusts. People age.  So we have this tension: we live in a world that is both beautiful and broken. Both these states occur through the simple unfolding of natural events in a very complex world. This hardly makes the events themselves evil.  For example, trees, picnic tables, computers, guns, money, and bicycles are neither good nor bad – they just are. However, the events which they precipitate can be experience in very different ways. If a tree falls, is that good or bad? I suppose that depends on whether I wanted firewood or shade. Is rain good or bad? That depends on whether I am camping or farming.

These are minor example, but many things we call “acts of God” are simply a description of the natural order unfolding on a much larger scale. Natural disasters can be emotionally devastating because people are effected by them. We grieve the impact on those we love, as we should. We do our best to prepared for natural calamities. These response are clearly appropriate, but the condemnation of the God behind the creation of the world is more of a stretch. After all, the same forces that bring suffering are the ones that bring about astonishing beauty. Think about the following…

  • Is it possible to make electricity that does not electrocute?

  • Is it possible to have a system of plate tectonics without the possibility of earthquakes and sinkholes?

  • Can you have water without the possibility of drowning?

  • Can you have wind without the possibility of tornados?

  • Can you have oceans without occasional hurricanes?

  • Can you have gravity without the possibility of falling?

  • Can you have fire that burns wood in fire pits but not homes?

The God of cyclones is also the God of sunsets. In both instances, God created a world in which the wildly creative potential of the habitat would not be possible if it did not contain within it the possibility of incredible destruction as well. 

#3 We need to understand the nature of God’s Will

Is God responsible, then, when tragedies happen? Was it His will? If we are to understand what we (or others0 mean when talking about God's will for life, we need to understand two aspects of God’s will: things he commands and things he desires.

 God commanded the universe into being. Nothing could oppose him. God commanded his incarnation, death and resurrection, and no one could stop it. The fancy name for this is God’s decretive will (He decrees it).

 The other category of God’s will is his desires. He doesn’t want anyone to sin. It is not his will that any should perish. He has given us instructions that explain what we should and should not do. This is called God’s prescriptive will (he prescribes, like a doctor prescribes medicine). 

Command (Decretive Will)                                        Desire (Prescriptive Will)

God decrees it; it will happen.                                         God prescribed it; it should happen

We don't need to understand                                           We are helped to understand

Plans that can't  be thwarted                                           Instructions that can be thwarted

God's sovereignty  causes them to happen.                    God's restraint allows them to happen.

God caused the universe to begin to exist (decretive will), but he allows history to unfold in a cause/effect reality (prescriptive will). God caused people to be created in His image; He permits them to exercise free will. The unfolding of natural events and the consequences of our bad choices have impacted us from their inception. This is what we would expect in a meaningful world. 

GCengage: Do Pain and Evil Disprove God? (Two Skeptical Challenges)

The problem of suffering and pain in a world that the theist claims has been created by an all-loving, all-powerful, all-knowing God has long been a flashpoint in the debate surrounding God’s nature and existence. The argument about the mere presence of evil pushes the limits of human history (i.e. Job), but the escalated horrors of the 20th century, specifically the Holocaust, have brought the debate about the magnitude of the problem to the forefront now more than ever. Interestingly, the problem of pain was not a serious threat to Christian thought until the last several centuries; suffering has only recently been seen as a ground for final skepticism rather than an incentive for inquiry. 

Christian theologians have responded in a number of ways. In the next post, we will look more closely at three important talking points when having this conversation. In the final post, we will look at how the Apostle Paul dealt with the suffering in his own life. In this post, we will look at two logical challenges that highlight the Problem of Evil.

Two Skeptical Challenges

The Logical Problem of Evil: God and evil are logically incompatible.

Critics of Christianity have dealt with this a few different ways. One is to say that if God is all-knowing, this wouldn’t have happened. If he was all-powerful, he could prevent it. And if he was all-loving, nothing would keep him from doing so.

 In response, Christians typically talk about free will. The Free Will defender argues that it was good for God to create people who had genuine choices. Humans were created to be able to make ethical choices in a morally significant way, and this ability makes this world more valuable than a world that does not contain free action. 

Much of the suffering in this life is our own making, either directly or indirectly, and the only way God could prevent us or our ancestors from disrupting the order he created would be to take away our free will. We have a dilemma. Which is more important: risky freedom or coerced happiness? A world in which nothing we do matters because there are no consequences, or a world in which everything we do matters, sometimes to the extreme, precisely because there are consequences?

 Though this is a complex subject with a rich history of debate, few philosophers today see the Logical Problem of Evil as a valid argument against God’s existence.

The Evidential Problem: There is so much evil that God’s existence is unlikely.

While the logical approach said that God and evil could not exist simultaneously, the evidential problem looks at the fact that it sure seems like God would fix things – especially the things that humans don’t seem to have caused. Why do animals die in forest fires? Why do babies get sick and sometimes die? If there were a God who loved us, he would not allow unexplainable and meaningless suffering.  

Philosopher William Rowe stated the argument along these lines: 

  1. If there are times of gratuitous suffering which an all-powerful, all-knowing, completely good being could and would prevent, then this being (the Christian God) does not exist. 
  2. These times clearly happen. 
  3. Therefore, the Christian God does not exist

 

G.E. Moore provided a response to Rowe’s logically phrased argument:

  1. If there are times of gratuitous suffering which an all-powerful, all-knowing, completely good being could and would prevent, God does not exist.
  2. God does exist.
  3. Therefore, there are no times of gratuitous suffering.

 

If there is a God who loves us, the suffering we see is not without explanation or meaning. Maybe God exists and he allows things to happen that we don’t like or understand. This doesn’t mean there is no God. At most, the problem of evil is not an attack on God’s existence, but an attack on his character.

The Christian worldview claims that we live in a world with an overwhelming, intrinsic good (Free Will) that and gives it worth in spite of the pain that accompanies it. It is a legitimate answer for the skeptic who thinks this is a challenge to God’s existence.

GCengage: Do Miracles Happen?

Miracles matter a lot to followers of Christ.

The heart of our faith is the Resurrection.  That miracle must have occurred in order for our faith to be valid. For a Resurrection we need an Incarnation – and that’s a miracle.  For the world in which the Incarnation occurs, we need a Creation – and that’s a miracle.  For the new life the Christ offers to all of us – we need yet another miracle.

Christians embrace the supernatural as an explanation for many events throughout the history of the world. Skeptics often see this as a giving up too easily in a search for knowledge, or trying to find places for God to fit in a world where science makes God unnecessary. So how do we respond to those who are skeptical of miraculous claims?

As always, it will be important to define terms accurately. Merriam-Webster defines a miracle as "an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs." David Hume used a more pejorative definition: they are "a violation of the laws of nature." Christian theologians have phrased the definition in a number of ways, but the overall opinion is that a miracle is a supernatural interaction with the world in which an event that would not have otherwise occurred does occur.

There are at least three classic objections that have been raised in response to miracles.

Objection #1: The world as we see is defined by predictability, or “uniform experience.” Miracles are so unique, so unusual, so improbable, it is more probable that the testimony for miracles is false than that the event is true. It is more likely that the witnesses to a “miracle” lied than that the uniform experience of so many others is wrong. 

In other words, extraordinary events require extraordinary evidence. Miracles are extraordinary; therefore, they require extraordinary confirmation (in this case an amount that will never be achieved). There are several ways to respond.

First, if excessive evidence is the hallmark, miracles as a category have millions of people who claim to have experienced or seen them in some fashion. That seems like a lot of evidence. 

Second, it is by no means clear why extraordinary events require excessive evidence. Events merely need evidence, whether they are extraordinary or not. Uniform experiences are like an “average”; they tell us a lot about life in general, but not necessarily about life in detail. We don’t have to look farther than the front page of newspapers to find actual events that are incredibly improbable but are nonetheless true.

  • On December 24, 1971, Juliane Koepcke was flying on an airplane that was struck by lightning and exploded in mid-air.  Juliane fell into the Peruvian jungle from 10,000 feet while strapped to her seat. She suffered only a broken collarbone, a swollen eye and a cut on her arm. Though missing her glasses, she waded downstream for nine days before finding a canoe and paddling to civilization.
  • Betty Lou Oliver was in the Empire State Building on July 28, 1945, when a plane the building. She was thrown from her elevator on the 75th floor and severely burned by the fire resulting from the crash. When firefighters put her back on the elevator to send her down for medical attention, the cables promptly snapped, and she went into a free-fall for 75 stories. She was back at work 5 months later.

Third, there is something illogical in the argument itself:  “If there is absolutely “uniform experience” against miracles, in other words, they have never happened, why then, they never have. Unfortunately, we know the experience against them to be uniform only if we know that all the reports of them are false.  And we know all the reports are false only if we know already that miracles have never occurred.  In fact, we are arguing in a circle.”  C.S. Lewis

 Objections #2: Natural explanations can be provided for most miraculous claims. If not, it’s just because we don’t understand the natural world well enough yet (i.e., quantum physics).

 At the heart of this critique is the belief that science will eventually provide answers to all the mysteries around us. It’s a “God of the Gaps” argument with the god of science as the answer. However, this gap-filler reveals an unwarranted reluctance to consider that forces beyond the natural realm may be part of the furniture of our universe – and our lives. Science is great at studying the natural world; it’s simply not meant to weigh in on whether or not there is more to reality. Tim McGrew gives a great analogy (and I have paraphrased it slightly):

“Deep in the heart of a great forest, a bird who has never seen a human being lives in contentment at the top of a large and flourishing tree. One day he flies miles to the north and spends a day eating grubs in a marsh. The day is clear and fine, with scarcely a cloud. When the bird returns in the evening, the tree where he has lived lies flat upon the ground, neatly severed at the base. 

Our bird knows that trees with dead branches sometimes snap and fall in the wind or even collapse under their own weight. He knows that severe storms can split or knock down even an apparently healthy tree. But in his experience, without exception, healthy trees do not suddenly fall on sunny days. Yet there the tree lies. What is the bird to think, and what should his skeptical friends think of his testimony that the tree did, indeed, fall? 

In all of the bird’s experience up until now, man has never played a role. But now his world has been invaded by a higher order of being that can make things happen the bird has never experienced or imagined. The generalization he has formed — that healthy trees, left to themselves, do not fall down on sunny days — is true as far as it goes. But this tree was not left to itself.”

Christians are often accused of citing a “God of the Gaps” to explain things they don’t understand. But there are always gaps; everyone believes something (or someone) will fill them. If no natural criteria can explain an event, it’s at least worth considering that a non-natural explanation - something (or someone) beyond what we know - has interacted with our world. We have not been left to ourselves.

 Objections #3:  Miracles undermine the laws of nature. This makes the efforts of science useless, because science relies on a predictable, cause/effect universe.

 I’ve heard an analogy comparing God’s miraculous intervention in the world to the way events are influenced inside a fishbowl. If someone bumps a table supporting a fishbowl, the pebbles will shake and the water will ripple.  If the fish are committed to seeking an explanation only inside the fishbowl, because they do not believe anything exists outside the fishbowl, they will never find an adequate explanation for what happened.  Maybe they think believing otherwise allows for a “God” who violates the laws of the nature in the fishbowl.

 We, however, know that if the fishbowl hadn’t been effected, laws governing all of reality, not just the reality of the fishbowl, would have broken.  In other words, an orderly and predictable world absorbs and reacts to miracles.  Not responding would actually be the problem. As C.S. Lewis’s noted in Miracles: “Miracles, if they occur, must, like all events, be revelations of that total harmony of all that exists... In calling them miracles we do not mean that they are contradictions or outrages; we mean that, left to her [Nature] own resources, she could never produce them… there are rules behind the rules, and a unity which is deeper than uniformity."

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 Recommended Resources:

  • “The Problem of Miracles: A Historical and Philosophical Perspective.”  William Lane Craig. www.leaderu.com
  • “The Natural as Supernatural.”  Ravi Zacharias, www.rzim.org
  •  Miracles.  C.S. Lewis.
  • Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts. Craig Keener.
  • Chapter 6, Reasonable Faith,  William Lane Craig
  • Chapter 3, Is God Just a Human Invention?  Sean McDowell
  • “Miracles: Is Belief in the Supernatural Irrational? “John Lennox at Harvard
  • “A Defense of the Rationality of Miracles,” Brett Kunkl
  • “Cultural Relativism and the Emasculation of Truth” (4 parts).  Ravi Zacharias
  • Blog Resources: Topical posts at The Poached Egg and Apologetics 315

GCengage: Is God A Monster?

Richard Dawkins famously wrote: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

That kind of accusation makes sense coming from someone who wants to discredit Gd and the Bible. However, it's not just the atheists who struggle with the Old Testament. I was raised in a pacifist Mennonite community, and there were just large sections of the Old Testament that nobody talked about in polite company. We read the story about David and Goliath with as much detachment and inner condemnation as we could. We wondered how much we should cheer for David’s mighty men, who were the elite forces of their day. We cheered when Sampson brought the temple down, but with some guilt.  So what do you think we did with all the God-ordained wars in the Old Testament?

Nothing.

We loved Jesus when he said “love your enemy” and “turn the other cheek,” but God? God in the Old Testament was sometimes treated like the crazy uncle who shows up at family reunions. Nobody really knows how to interact with him or explain him to others.

From a Christian apologetics standpoint, this issue is important. I think many Christians remain as confused as I was. But this is an crucial topic to address because those outside the faith aren’t letting this one slide – and rightly so. How could God be “good” if he commanded so much evil? This is the question we must be prepared to answer.

So how do we understand a sometimes confusing Old Testament God, and how do we respond to critics such as Dawkins? Let's tackle this issue by looking closely at this critique of God. In the process, we will see that the God of the Old Testament is not a God for which we need to apologize, but is rather a God who loves the world.

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The accusation: "God’s actions as seen in the Bible are incompatible with his character as described in the Bible (with genocidal wars, etc). Either he doesn’t exist, the Bible is hopelessly muddled, or God is a monster.”

First Response: “Is it possible that God knows things and/or has reasons that our beyond our ability to understand, but would make sense if we knew them?”

Sometimes we read stories about alleged police brutality or wartime atrocities, then find out later that the police were justified in what they did. We didn’t have the whole story. Of course, we get in trouble in a lot of situations precisely because we are not God – we don’t have perfect knowledge, and justice, and mercy, etc. But if God has all these things (which is the Christian claim), isn’t it possible that if we knew what God knew, we would understand? This is a modest point, but an important one.

Second Response: “Let’s clarify what we are talking about before we go any further. What do you mean by good and evil?”

The most popular atheist writers today are very outspoken about things they think are wrong, while at the same time claiming there either is no such thing, or that morality is just a personal or cultural preference.

  • “Morality is a collective illusion of humankind put in place by our genes in order to make us good cooperators.” – Michael Ruse
  • “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect of there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”  - Richard Dawkins
  • In an interview with Skeptic, Frank Miele asked Mr. Dawkins,“How do you determine whether something is good or not, other than by just your personal choice?” Dawkins responded, “I don’t even try.”

In other words, atheists are criticizing God for being evil when compared to some sort of universal standard - which they don’t believe in. I point this out not to belittle the people holding this position, but to highlight the problem with the criticism. Not liking what God does is very different from God being evil.

Third Answer: "When the Old Testament is read properly, it becomes clear that God in not a monster at all."

Paul Copan has written a book called Is God A Moral Monster? In it, he notes some key things to remember as we think of God in the Old Testament, specifically when it comes to the issue of war. I have written on this in detail at TC Apologetics, but I will summarize here:

  •  There were justifiable reasons for cultures to be judged.
  • God waited and warned the people involved (for example, the high priest Mechizadech lived in Canaan in the city of Salem).
  • The Jewish nation exercised lex talionis (a principle which says that punishment cannot exceed the crime). What other nations had done to others was now being done to them.
  • Biblical “war texts” record a dispossession of people and destruction of worldview centers. God was destroying sinful cultural strongholds and their perpetrators (priests and military) while dispersing the population.
  • God commanded the Israelites to accept immigrants from these nations, clearly showing God was not interested in genocide.
  • We continue to see favorable references to people from all nations living in Israel after the wars.

This is not a history of genocide, but of the salvation of an area of the world from specific cultures that were some of the most brutal on record in human history. In an interview with Lee Strobel, Paul Copan quoted Miroslav Volf, a Croatian who lived through unspeakable violence during ethnic strife in the former Yugoslavia. I think his perspective contains great insight into the nature of God:

“I used to think that wrath was unworthy of God. Isn’t God love? Shouldn’t divine love be beyond wrath? God is love, and God loves every person and every creature. That’s exactly why God is wrathful against some of them. My last resistance to the idea of God’s wrath was a casualty of the war in the former Yugoslavia, the region from which I come. According to some estimates, 200,000 people were killed and over 3,000,000 were displaced. My villages and cities were destroyed, my people shelled day in and day out, some of them brutalized beyond imagination, and I could not imagine God not being angry. Or think of Rwanda in the last decade of the past century, where 800,000 people were hacked to death in one hundred days!

How did God react to the carnage? By doting on the perpetrators in a grandfatherly fashion? By refusing to condemn the bloodbath but instead affirming the perpetrators’ basic goodness? Wasn’t God fiercely angry with them? Though I used to complain about the indecency of the idea of God’s wrath, I came to think that I would have to rebel against a God who wasn’t wrathful at the sight of the world’s evil. God isn’t wrathful in spite of being love. God is wrathful because God is love.”

This is one of the messages of the anger of God in the Old Testament: God is not indifferent with respect to those who suffer human cruelty. Is it possible to conceive of a being who embodies love but does not become outraged at injustice? And while not every injustice in this life is addressed immediately, God’s plan offers at least a hope that justice will have its day, if not in this life then the life to come.

“Human anger at injustice will carry less weight and seriousness if divine anger at injustice in the service of life is not given its proper place. If our God is not angry, why should we be? That God would stoop to become involved in such human cruelties as violence is…. not a matter for despair, but of hope. God does not simply give people up to experience violence. God chooses to become involved…so that evil will not have the last word.” – Terence Fretheim

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Recommended Resources

Tactics, Greg Koukl

Is God A Moral Monster? Paul Copan

“How Could God Command Genocide in the Old Testament?” Justin Taylor, at the Gospel Coalition

“Killing The Canaanites,” Clay Jones

TC Apologetics: God of War Series (tcapologetics.org)

TC Apologetics: The Shape of Reality (Identifying Evil)

GCengage: Was Jesus Just A Myth?

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I love the Facebook page “Did Abe Lincoln Really Exist?”  It’s a satirical page that takes the same arguments people use to claim  Jesus was a myth and applies them to the life and record of Abraham Lincoln. It’s funny, but it highlights a serious topic: Did Jesus exist?  Movies Like Zeitgeist, The Da Vinci Code  and  Religious have really pushed the idea that Jesus either didn’t exist or was just another mythical god. In order to respond well to this question, there are at least three key claims that deserve a clear answer.

CLAIM #1: Jesus Never Existed

Even though atheists like Bertrand Russell and Richard Dawkins seems very excited about this claim, this idea is simply not taken seriously. Rather than cite a host of Christian scholars who obviously take issue with them, I will let Bart Ehrman respond. Ehrman is a  biblical scholar who is also an outspoken Scriptural critic. He does not believe Jesus was God, and he is highly skeptical about the reliability of Scripture, but on this issue he wrote:

“With respect to Jesus, we have numerous, independent accounts of his life in the sources lying behind the Gospels (and the writings of Paul) -- sources that originated in Jesus' native tongue Aramaic and that can be dated to within just a year or two of his life… Historical sources like that are is pretty astounding for an ancient figure of any kind 

Moreover, we have relatively extensive writings from one first-century author, Paul, who acquired his information within a couple of years of Jesus' life and who actually knew, first hand, Jesus' closest disciple Peter and his own brother James. If Jesus did not exist, you would think his brother would know it… 

Moreover, aspects of the Jesus story simply would not have been invented by anyone wanting to make up a new Savior. The earliest followers of Jesus declared that he was a crucified messiah. But prior to Christianity, there were no Jews at all, of any kind whatsoever, who thought that there would be a future crucified messiah. 

The messiah was to be a figure of grandeur and power who overthrew the enemy. Anyone who wanted to make up a messiah would make him like that. Why did the Christians not do so? Because they believed specifically that Jesus was the Messiah. And they knew full well that he was crucified. The Christians did not invent Jesus…”

Ehrman does not conclude that Jesus was the Messiah, but he clearly makes the case for his existence. In an entry called “Christ Myth Theory,” even Wikipedia (which has received a lot of criticism for having a somewhat hostile view toward Christianity) notes:

“The hypothesis that a historical Jesus figure never existed is supported only by a very small minority of modern scholars… biblical scholars and classical historians now regard theories of non-existence of Jesus as effectively refuted.”

 CLAIM #2: Jesus is a compilation of myths

Books like Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces and The Masks of God, as well as James George Frazer’s The Golden Bough, reignited a modern dialogue by claiming that the stories of Krishna, Buddha, Apollonius, Osiris, Jesus and others were all connected.

Jewish scholar Samuel Sandmel calls this "parallelomania” – people see an apparent similarity and then go “maniacal” in their attempts to create a parallel connection in the stories.  The fact that a fictional story bears a resemblance to a later historical event is hardly a sufficient reason to dismiss the event. Here is a more recent example from J. Warner Wallace:

“What if I told you that a man named Morgan Robertson once wrote about a British ocean liner that was about 800 feet long, weighed over 60,000 tons, and could carry about 3,000 passengers? The ship had a top cruising speed of 24 knots, had three propellers, and about 20 lifeboats. What if I told you that this ocean liner hit an iceberg on its maiden voyage in the month of April, tearing an opening in the starboard side forward portion of the ship, and sinking along with about 2,000 passengers? Would you recognize the event from history? 

You might say, “Hey, that’s the Titanic!” Well, you would be wrong. While all these details are identical to the Titanic, the ship I am talking about is the “Titan” and it is a fictional ship described in Robertson’s book called “The Wreck of the Titan” or “Futility” (Buccaneer Books, Cutchogue, New York, 1898). This book was written fourteen years BEFORE the disaster took place, and several years before the construction was even begun on the Titanic!"

Correlation is not causation. Similarity is not plagiarism. Furthermore, there are at least six separate problems with the mythical “dying and rising god” analogy: 

  • There are no dying and rising gods similar to Jesus in mythology.
  • No evidence suggests that Jesus fit that profile of the pagan gods even if the “dying and rising god” similarities were true.
  • In 1 Corinthians15, we have one of the earliest Christian creeds dating to around 55 AD. Paul said it was “received,” so it was already in place before then. The idea that a mythical Jesus emerged in that short of a time span is very hard to defend.
  • Similarities between Mithraic and Christian rituals were written about by early Christians, but the writers saw it as a distortion of Christian practices, not a foundational tradition that helped to start Christianity. In fact, Mithraism didn’t reach the area in which Christianity began until the later part of the first century (thanks to Roman soldiers bringing the ideas back with them).
  • Because the Christian community was largely populated by people raised in Judaism, the idea that early Christians would choose to combine pagan myths with their faith is very unlikely (something about “having no other gods”).
  • The early followers of Christ clearly believed him to be divine, as seen in the many ICTHUS carvings that have survived. (ICTHUS is an anagram for “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.”)

CLAIM #3: We don’t need a physical Jesus to die and resurrect.

The idea is that a spiritual Jesus, or a real Jesus with a purely spiritual resurrection, would be sufficient for the Christian claims about salvation and resurrection. Therefore, we don't need to worry about the controversy over his historicity or legacy. However, the historical resurrection of Jesus is crucial to all the core doctrinal claims of Christianity.

Jesus’ death did not prove His divinity; anybody can die. His Resurrection was the proof. “By being raised from the dead [Christ] was proved to be the mighty Son of God, with the holy nature of God Himself." (Romans 1:4, The Living Bible). Paul writes very clearly about the importance of this claim:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas (Peter), then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-7)

Through His Resurrection, Jesus’ claims about the ability to forgive sin were confirmed:  “If Christ is not risen, then our faith is in vain…That is, if there truly was no resurrection, then we, believers, are to be pitied for being so hoodwinked.  If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all.” (1 Corinthians 15:17-19)  If Jesus can break the power of physical death, then his claim to cancel spiritual death carries a lot of weight.

 RECOMMENDED RESOURCES 

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 “When they say that Christian beliefs about Jesus are derived from pagan mythology, I think you should laugh. Then look at them wide-eyed and with a big grin, and exclaim, "Do you really believe that?" Act as though you've just met a flat earther or Roswell conspirator. You could say something like, "Man, those old theories have been dead for over a hundred years! Where are you getting this stuff?" Tell them this is just sensationalist junk, not serious scholarship. If they persist, then ask them to show you the actual passages narrating the supposed parallel. They're the ones who are swimming against the scholarly consensus, so make them work hard to save their religion. I think you'll find that they've never even read the primary sources.”  – William Lane Craig

Read more: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/jesus-and-pagan-mythology#ixzz2af6RdBhh

GCengage: Is the Bible Reliable?

The Da Vinci Code put the criticism of the reliability of the Bible on the cultural map by embedding several controversial claims into the public square:

  • The accepted history of Christianity is a lie.
  • The Gospels are remarkably inaccurate.
  • Constantine got rid of other competing gospels.
  • Judaism and early Christianity were actually religions of goddess worship.
  • Jesus was clearly not God.

DVC had a huge impact on the public perception of the Bible. For some, it confirmed their disbelief. For others, it caused them to doubt the reliability of the Bible, and they scrambled to come up with a way to cling to Jesus while explaining away the Bible.  In previous weeks, we noted that 1) God exists, 2) we can know true things about him, and 3) it is in Christianity that we find the fullness of God’s revelation of himself through Jesus Christ.  Of course, we learn about Jesus through the Bible, so today’s focus is on the reliability of the Bible. As a way of thinking through some of the claims, here are some minimal facts about the Bible that it would be helpful to know.

Minimal Fact #1: It’s a serious historical book.

  • Real people really wrote it. Those people are part of history.
  • The book itself can be tracked throughout history, and if you study it the same way you study other ancient books, it stands out in its accuracy and preservation.  This had a lot to do with the way the early church very carefully preserved writings that stood above other things that were written about Jesus.
  • It’s also falsifiable in ways other religious texts are not: it makes claims about public events that are meant to be tested. It tells embarrassing stories about its heroes and gives unnecessary details.  In addition, the Bible itself claims that if the key teaching is proven false – the death and resurrection of Jesus – the entire system is false.

Minimal Fact #2: What’s in it now is what was in it then.

The Bible is often compared to the telephone game, where one person copies from another, who copies from another, and so on until the message that is received is nothing like the message that was intended. Another claim is that the Bible has been translated so many times that error has taken over the text. These are simply not the case. The Bible stands out in terms of its safe transmission. 

It’s worth noting there is absolutely no reason to believe that a notion of the sacred feminine was deleted, and no reason to believe that a secret, powerful group of people bullied certain books out of into the canon of Scripture. What we have now is what they had then, and what they had then was determined by a very public and careful process.

Minimal Fact #3: The Bible is Internally Consistent  

There's a lot that could be said here (see "Recommended Resources" at the end of this post), but let's look at one particular area that has gained recent popularity: undesigned coincidences. This happens when more than one writer give details about a story that seem insignificant in isolation, but put into context with others they create a cohesive, comprehensive picture.

  • For example, in Matthew 8:16 we read, “When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick.” The comment about evening seems irrelevant in comparison to casting out demons and healing the sick. Who cares what time of day it was?  But when reading other accounts, the pieces fall into place. Mark records the same incident and says that it was on a Sabbath (Mark 1:21). Matthew 12:10 notes the Jews would not heal on the Sabbath Since theJews considered 6pm as the end of the day,  people brought the sick people to be healed in the evening.  Small detail; interesting cohesion of stories.
  • Luke 9:36 records the disciples seeing Elijah and Moses, hearing God’s voice , and telling no one. That seems odd, doesn't it? Wouldn't they tell everybody? Mark 9:9-10 gives the explanation: “Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant”.
  • In John 6:5, we read this incident in the life of Jesus: When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” Why Phillip? Philip rarely gets any specific press, so why here? Why now?  Well, it turns out they were in Philip's home town. Who else would they ask? (John 1:44; Luke 9:10)

Minimal Fact #4: The Bible is Externally Verifiable

  Archaeology has provided massive amounts of corroborating evidence for the Biblical record. Check out biblicalarcheology.org for a lot of very cool examples.  In addition, ancient non-Christian writers such as Thallus, Josephus, Tacitus, Tranquillas, and Pliny recorded events in the life of Jesus and the early church. (For a good list with quotes, go to http://www.authenticlight.org/2011/01/ancient-writers-who-mention-jesus.html, or http://www.equip.org/articles/biblical-archaeology-factual-evidence-to-support-the-historicity-of-the-bible/

 Minimal Fact #5: Its testable, reliable, consistent claims about the physical world justify its spiritual claims.

An attesting miracle is one whereJesus did something in the physical world to substantiate a claim He was making about spiritual reality. Once, when Jesus was asked if he could forgive sins, he performed a miracle to substantiate His spiritual claims: "‘In order that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home.’" (Mk. 2:10-11)  In other words, Jesus was not afraid to provide facts that would support faith.

 We see a similar example in Exodus 9:14: "For this time I will send all My plagues on you and your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is no one like Me in all the earth."  Once again, God is not adverse to using observable, historical events (in this case plagues) to verify unobservable, spiritual truths.

 So, what’s the purpose of all this evidence? After all, we are not trying to bring people to faith in the Bible; we are trying to bring people to faith in Christ.  Our goal is to show the skeptic that that Bible is reliable in the claims that can be empirically tested (with history, science, and archaeology), and so we have good reason to believe that when it speaks of realities beyond the physical world, it is also trustworthy. Eventually, we hope and pray that Scripture will be embraced as the trustworthy revelation of God to the world. Meanwhile, discussion about its reliability may at least keep the Bible on the conversational table.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES

GCengage: Do All Roads Lead To God?

Religious people generally choose one of four different positions when talking about God: exclusivism, inclusivism, pluralism or universalism. 

  •  Exclusivism (particularism). There is one true religion. An exclusivist follower of Christ claims Christianity is the only true religion, and salvation is impossible without explicit trust in Christ. 
  • Inclusivism. Others can experience the benefits of the one true religion in spite of following a false religion. An inclusivist follower of Christ claims there is no salvation outside of Christ, but God will extend grace to those who have partial or distorted knowledge and implicitly - perhaps unknowingly - believe in him. God can be sought and found in other religions in spite of their flaws, and that will be salvatory.
  •  Pluralism. All religions are capable of leading to God (think Life of Pi). This is the basic idea behind the imagery on bumper stickers like “CoExist."
  •  Universalism. Eventually, all will be saved no matter what they believe.

The claim that all roads lead to God is a pluralist position, though some forms of inclusivism may claim this as well. There are two basic claims that the religious pluralist makes: All of us are right because we know something about God, and what we see will be sufficient to lead us to God.

The first claim is often explained by using The Parable of the Elephant.

Some disciples went to the Buddha and said, "Sir, some are saying that the world is infinite and eternal and others that it is finite and not eternal, some saying that the soul dies with the body and others that it lives on forever, and so forth. What, Sir, would you say concerning them?"

The Buddha answered, "Once upon a time there was a certain raja who said to his servant, 'Gather together all the men of Savatthi who were born blind... and show them an elephant.' 'Very good, sire,' replied the servant, and he did as he was told. To one man he presented the head of the elephant, to another its ears, to another a tusk, to another the trunk, the foot, back, tail, and tuft of the tail, saying to each one that that was the elephant.

"Then the raja went to each of them and said, ‘Tell me, what sort of thing is an elephant?'

"The men who were presented with the head answered, 'Sire, an elephant is like a pot.' And the men who had observed the ear replied, 'An elephant is like a winnowing basket.' Those who had been presented with a tusk said it was a ploughshare. Those who knew only the trunk said it was a plough; others said the body was a grainery; the foot, a pillar; the back, a mortar; the tail, a pestle, the tuft of the tail, a brush.

"Then they began to quarrel, shouting, 'Yes it is!' 'No, it is not!' 'An elephant is not that!' 'Yes, it's like that!' and so on, till they came to blows over the matter.

"Just so are these preachers and scholars holding various views blind and unseeing....."

 (paraphrased from cs.princeton.edu) 

Unfortunately for the pluralists, the parable doesn’t support their position. It requires one person to be in a position to judge whether or not all the other competing claims are true. So, it requires a qualified judge who sees all and knows all.  In fact, this parable is compatible with a Christian view of God. Sure, other people know some true things about God. Christianity simply claims to be the religion that offers a unified perspective of the Big Picture.

In addition, this parable shows a misunderstanding of what religions actually claim. Pluralism claims all religions are superficially different, but fundamentally the same, but that’s not the case at all. Religions are often superficially the same, but fundamentally different.

Here are ways in which religious claims around the world are different:

  • Jesus’ Death and Resurrection: he didn’t die (Islam); he didn't rise (Judaism); it was spiritual enlightenment (some Eastern religions); he did both (Christianity)
  • The Afterlife: We functionally cease to exist (Buddhism); we are reincarnated (Hinduism); we are snuffed out (Jainism) continue in  personal existence (Christianity)
  • God: We are god (New Age); God is everything (pantheism); God is Unitarian (Islam and Judaism); God is Trinitarian (Christianity); God is Many (Hinduism); God is a Force (some branches of Buddhism)

Stephen Prothero,author of God Is Not One, does not profess to be a religious person. Nonetheless, he wrote a book after he became increasingly frustrated with the shallow cultural conversations about religion. In an interview with The Huffington Post, he said, 

“I don't think pretend pluralism is the way to go. All religions are not one. They are neither the unified beauty the multiculturalists want them to be nor the unified ugliness the new atheists insist that they are… As any ordinary Muslim in Indonesia or Christian in Nigeria can tell you, Islam and Christianity are not one and the same. It is just as false to say that all religions are poison as it is to say that all religions are beautiful and true.” 

The inclusive “all roads lead to God” pluralist wants to take the people of all religions seriously, but this is done at the expense of the claims. Hard-line exclusivists (if they are not careful) can take the claims seriously at the expense of the people.

Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father, except by me." This message must be said with grace and humility. The goal of Christianity is to take people seriously (treating others with honor and respect as image bearers of God) while taking their beliefs seriously – which requires affirming or challenging what people believe with honesty, boldness, and a commitment to truth.

GC:engage - Can Truth Be Known?

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In Acts 17, the Greek philosophers told Paul he had some “strange ideas” about God because he talked about Jesus and the Resurrection. Paul responded by giving them this classic speech in which he quoted their poets and writers and while making a general case for the God’s existence before arriving at the conclusion that Jesus was, in fact, God.

Last week we took a similar approach by asking how we can be effective ambassadors for Christ as we  give reasons for the existence of God. This week we will be looking more closely at issues involving truth - specifically, what do we do when we engage with someone who is agnostic; that is, skeptical that truth can be known.  John records the following conversation when Jesus was taken to Pilate for trial:

“The reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” “What is truth?” retorted Pilate. (John 18:37-38)

This was not an unusual response from a man who was probably greatly influenced by the skeptical philosophers around him. One famous saying at the time (from Pliny) was, “The only certain thing is that nothing is certain.”

We as Christians will eventually make the claim that not only can we know Christ in the sense that we can experience him; we can know Him in the sense that we can gain some sort of objective knowledge about him. In a world full of voices that increasingly sound like Pilate and Pliny, how can we navigate in a conversation with an agnostic from Point A (Skepticism or Agnosticism) to Point B (Truth) and eventually Point C (Truth about Christ)?

First, if someone makes a clear statement about their disbelief in their ability to know things, clarify the case being made. Nicely ask him or her to support that claim – and nicely ask some tough questions. Can the agnostic back up the claim that nothing can be backed up, or give reasons to believe that there are no reasons to believe?  If nothing else, it presents an intellectual dilemma.

Second, it’s important to understand the Christian claim about truth. Christians are not saying that everything can be known absolutely. Very few things can, actually. We are making a more modest claim: Truth can be sufficiently known. Even though we can acquire and seek for knowledge only in part, it’s sufficient for us to move forward (make a decision and act). 

This should not come as a surprise. After all, we constantly make choices in response to the knowledge we have: we cross the street, choose a spouse, ride in an airplane, or eat sushi based on incomplete but sufficient information. Granted, these are ordinary, empirical examples, but why assume that suddenly questions involving God must be put into a different category entirely? Some religions give no weight to empirical truth, but Christianity does. It practically begs you to study recorded, empirical events in the history of the world.   

Third, knowledge has a particular definition: “justified, true belief.”

  • Justified We have good reasons to trust that some things are true – our mind and senses are working normally, etc. We say, “Hey, look at this!” or “Did you hear that?” all the time.
  • True – What we believe corresponds with reality. We say, “Traverse City was packed during the Cherry Festival,” and it turns out it was.
  • Belief – We have firmly held convictions because we are justified in our statements about what is true.

 This definition of knowledge may seem a little pointy-headed at first, but it's actually very similar to what Luke wrote at the beginning of his gospel:

I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” (Luke 1:3-4)

Paul says that even though “we know in part,” (1 Corinthians 13:9-12), we can still “go forward in the light of such truth as we have already learned” (Philippians 3:16). The Christian claim, then, is not that God can be perfectly known. The claim is that God can be sufficiently known, and we are justified in make a decision about the truthfulness of God's existence.

"To say that we cannot know anything about God is to say something about God; it is to say that if there is a God, he is unknowable. But in that case, he is not entirely unknowable, for the agnostic certainly thinks that we can know one thing about him: That nothing else can be known about him. In the end, agnosticism is an illogical position to hold to." – J. Budziszewski

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RECOMMENDED RESOURCES

                       True for You, but not for Me, Paul Copan

                       Love Your God With All Your Mind, JP Moreland

                       A Refutation of Moral Relativism, Peter Kreeft

                      Chapters 1-4, That’s Just Your Interpretation, Paul Copan

                      Chapter 1 & 2, Is God Just a Human Invention, Sean McDowell

                       Chapter 11 & 17, Think Christianly, Jonathan Morrow

                       Seven Things You Can’t Do as a Moral Relativist, Salvo Magazine, Greg Koukl

                       Myths About the Search for Knowledge, J. Budziszewski

                       A Critique of Agnosticism, William Lane Craig

                       Absolute Truth, Frank Turek

                       Dealing with Doubts, Mike Licona, Bobby Conway

                        Cultural Relativism and the Emasculation of Truth (4 parts), Ravi Zacharias

General Resources:  tcapologetics.org; apologetics315.comstr.orgreasonablefaith.org

 

GC:engage - Does God Exist?

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(Part 1: Becoming An Effective Ambassador For Christ)

Christian theologians often cite three classic reasons for believing the Christian God exists. Theologians do not claim that these arguments lead to final, complete truth, only that their cumulative impact (through the use of abductive reasoning) presents a reasonable, compelling case for God’s existence.

1) The Cosmological Argument

Why is there something rather than nothing? Cosmological arguments have to do with the origin of the universe. Not the universe as in planets and stars, but the universe as in everything that is. It is often presented in this simple syllogistic style:

  • Everything that begins to exist has a cause
  • The universe began to exist
  • The universe has a cause

In short – something outside of the universe caused the universe. As Greg Koukl likes to say, “a big bang needs a big banger”.

2) The Moral Argument

What is the foundation of morality?  C.S. Lewis wrote one of the most well-known summaries:

   “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.” 

In a more formal syllogism, the argument takes this form:

  • If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
  • Objective moral values and duties do exist.
  • Therefore, God exists. 

3) The Teleological Argument

How does one explain the overwhelming impression of design? You may have heard the terms teleological argument, argument from design, or the fine-tuning argument. These have to do with the likelihood that anything exists, the likelihood that any life exists, or the likelihood that humans exist.

It seems incredibly unlikely – and perhaps impossible – that undirected processes would result in human life. Take an aquarium, for example. There is a range of acceptable salinity that is quite narrow. The same applies to light, temperature, food, air, size of tank, etc. The human living environment on earth and in the universe is almost unimaginably more complex: Gravity, temperature, nuclear forces, atmosphere around us, distance from sun and moon, ozone layer, existence of water, etc…. Roger Penrose, the Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford, recently noted:

“The likelihood of the universe having usable energy (low entropy) at its creation is ‘one part out of ten to the power of ten to the power of 123.’ That is ‘a million billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion.’”- as quoted in “Why Some Scientists Embrace the Multiverse,” by Dennis Prager

The syllogism looks like this:

  •   The universe appears to be designed (specified complexity).
  •   This happened either by chance, necessity, or design.
  •   Not chance or necessity.
  •   Therefore, it was designed.

 These arguments, as well as others Christian theologians have presented, have certainly not convinced everyone. Antony Flew* once raised a challenge in the form of a story called The Parable of the Gardener. Here is a version cited by Flew in “Theology and Justification”:

 "Once upon a time two explorers came upon a clearing in the jungle. In the clearing were growing many flowers and many weeds. One explorer says, “Some gardener must tend this plot.” So they pitch their tents and set a watch. No gardener is ever seen. “But perhaps he is an invisible gardener.” So they set up a barbed-wire fence. They electrify it. They patrol with bloodhounds. (For they remember how H. G. Wells’ The Invisible Man could be both smelt and touched though he could not be seen.) But no shrieks ever suggest that some intruder has received a shock. No movements of the wire ever betray an invisible climber. The bloodhounds never give cry. Yet still the Believer is not convinced. “But there is a gardener, invisible, intangible, insensible to electric shocks, a gardener who has no scent and makes no sound, a gardener who comes secretly to look after the garden which he loves.” At last the Skeptic despairs, “But what remains of your original assertion? Just how does what you call an invisible, intangible, eternally elusive gardener differ from an imaginary gardener or even from no gardener at all?” 

In response, John Frame wrote the following parable in “God and Biblical Language: Transcendence and Immanence”:

 Once upon a time two explorers came upon a clearing in the jungle. A man was there, pulling weeds, applying fertilizer, trimming branches. The man turned to the explorers and introduced himself as the royal gardener. One explorer shook his hand and exchanged pleasantries. The other ignored the gardener and turned away: “There can be no gardener in this part of the jungle,” he said; “this must be some trick. Someone is trying to discredit our previous findings.” They pitch camp. Every day the gardener arrives, tends the plot. Soon the plot is bursting with perfectly arranged blooms. “He’s only doing it because we’re here-to fool us into thinking this is a royal garden.” The gardener takes them to a royal palace, introduces the explorers to a score of officials who verify the gardener’s status. Then the skeptic tries a last resort: “Our senses are deceiving us. There is no gardener, no blooms, no palace, no officials. It’s still a hoax!” Finally the believer despairs: “But what remains of your original assertion? Just how does this mirage, as you call it, differ from a real gardener?”

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*Antony Flew late became a Deist, citing design as a compelling reason to believe that God in some fashion existed. He never embraced the beliefs of any particular religion.

 

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES

  1. Origins: “A Bigger Story”, Ravi Zacharias
  2. Cosmological Argument

               Chapter 3, Reasonable Faith, William Lane Craig

               Chapter 4, On Guard, William Lane Craig

               Chapter 1, The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask, Mark Mittelberg

                Chapter 5, Is God Just a Human Invention, Sean McDowell (Geivett)

                Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, Craig & Moreland

                The Existence of God and the Beginning of the Universe, William Lane Craig

                Overview of the Cosmological Argument, William Lane Craig

                Cosmological Argument, William Lane Craig

                 Kalam Cosmological Argument, JP Moreland

                 The Thomist Cosmological Argument, Peter Kreeft

                 What is the Kalam Cosmological Argument?, Craig and Conway

          3. Moral Argument

                     True for You, but not for Me, Paul Copan

                      The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis

                      A Refutation of Moral Relativism, Peter Kreeft

                      Chapter 3, Reasonable Faith, William Lane Craig

                      Chapter 6, On Guard, William Lane Craig

                      Chapter 1, The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask, Mark Mittelberg

                      Chapter 15, Is God Just a Human Invention, Sean McDowell (Linville)

                      God, Naturalism and Morality, Paul Copan (in “The Future of Atheism”)

                      Why I Am Not a Moral Relativist, Francis Beckwith

                      The Moral Argument for God’s Existence, Paul Copan

                       Did Morals Evolve?, Greg Koukl

                       Debate: Is the Foundation of Morality Natural or Supernatural?, Craig/Harris

                       Why I’m Not an Atheist, Ravi Zacharias

                       Grounding Morality, Greg Koukl

                        What is the Moral Argument for the Existence of God?, Craig/Conway

          4. Teleological Argument

                          Natural Theology, William Paley

                          Signature in the Cell, Stephen Meyer

                          Chapter 4, Reasonable Faith, William Lane Craig

                          Chapter 5, On Guard, William Lane Craig

                          Chapter 1, The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask, Mark Mittelberg

                          Chapters 6-7, Is God Just a Human Invention, Sean McDowell (Rana, Richards)

                           Fine-Tuning For Life In The Universe, Hugh Ross

                           Dr. Stephen Meyer at Cambridge

                           Why is the Universe Fine-Tuned, Guillermo Gonzalez

                           Dr. Fuz Rana discusses the beauty and elegance of biochemistry

                           What is the Fine-Tuning Argument for the Existence of God?, Craig/Conway

       5. General Resources

                            tcapologetics.orgapologetics315.comstr.orgreasonablefaith.org

GC:engage - Becoming An Effective Ambassador for Christ

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The Great Commission 

When Jesus gave his disciples the Great Commission, he told them to go into all the world and preach the gospel. The Apostle Paul would later make the analogy of ambassadorship: we areall representatives of Christ. In order to represent him well, we need knowledge (an accurately informed mind), wisdom (an artful method) and character (an attractive manner).*

When Jesus gave his disciples the Great Commission, he told them to go into all the world and preach the gospel. The Apostle Paul would later make the analogy of ambassadorship: we areall representatives of Christ. In order to represent him well, we need knowledge (an accurately informed mind), wisdom (an artful method) and character (an attractive manner).*

Wisdom (an artful method) 

“The wise of heart is called discerning, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness.” (Proverbs 16:21) 

“Therefore, we are Christ's representatives, and through us God is calling you.” (2 Corinthians 5:20)

If Christ is calling people to himself through us, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness, it’s probably important to think about how to make a compelling presentation about Christ and the Christian worldview. Here is where both character and knowledge play an important role.

Character (Attractive Manner)

 “In your hearts revere 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.” (1 Peter 3:15, NIV) 

 “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 2:24-25, NIV)

When you talk with others about your faith, remember that your manner of interaction – no matter the topic – speaks volumes about the God you serve. You want to make a winsome, compelling case for Christ and His Kingdom, so be careful not to be defensive and frustrated or to feel like you have to answer every question that a skeptic has. Listen to understand before you respond.  You’ll get your chance; meanwhile, a lot can be learned from listening first (James 1:19; Proverbs 29:20; Proverbs 18:2)

Think in terms of the next meeting. Keep the door open for another discussion. You probably won’t convince anyone to radically change his or her worldview in one sitting. Anything important takes time. In the long run, it’s probably better to value the relationship than win the argument. You can win an argument and never see a person again. But if you build a relationship even in the midst of disagreements, you can revisit the questions again and again. If either one of you gets upset over anything other than the cross of Christ, you both lose.

Knowledge (an accurately informed mind)

“Be careful not to let anyone rob you [of this faith] through a shallow and misleading philosophy. Such a person follows human traditions and the world's way of doing things rather than following Christ.” (Colossians 2:8, God’s Word) 

“The weapons we use in our fight are not made by humans. Rather, they are powerful weapons from God. With them we destroy people’s defenses, that is, their arguments and all their intellectual arrogance that oppose the knowledge of God. We take every thought captive so that it is obedient to Christ.”  (2 Corinthians 10:4-5, God’s Word)

The first bit of information you need is why someone struggles with the idea of God. 

  • Some have experienced emotional pain, and find it hard to believe in God. Perhaps they have been abused, their health has failed them, or they have lost someone they love.  In the midst of these situations, they have felt serious disillusionment because they expected God to intervene. If this is the case, they don’t need a syllogism; they need empathy. Sometimes the best way to be an ambassador is to weep with those who weep.
  • Some have had experiential disappointment. Christians have failed or hurt them; churches have ignored their questions or been judgmental and legalistic. In this case, they may find it undesirable to believe. Why would they want to be a part of a group of people like that? If this is the case, acknowledge the hurt and frustration. Yes, Christians can be hypocrites. Yes, churches can wound people. The best thing you can do is to model true Christianity. They need to see faith in action more than they need a Bible verse. 
  • Some have intellectual frustration.  For them, there’s no perceived reason to believe. Because science and reason provide sufficient explanation of life as far as they can tell, they have no need for a God hypothesis. In this case, you may need to provide evidence (science, philosophy, history, archaeology, etc.).

The second bit of information you need is a clarification of terms. Ask what Greg Koukl* calls Columbo Questions: What do you mean by that? How did you come to that conclusion? Have you ever considered another idea? You will not only build a friendship, you will better understand the nature of someone’s skepticism. It’s frustrating to provide answers to questions nobody has. Take the time to find out what questions need to be answered.

The third bit of information you need is the truth that will address their circumstance. This is where you will need to give a reasoned argument, not simply make an assertion. An assertion is essentially a statement of opinion. It may be right or it may be wrong, but it’s nothing more than a statement of belief. “There is no God” is an assertion; so is, “There is a God.”  You will need to challenge bald assertions while building a positive case for your position.  You don’t need to be an expert, but it would be good to know something about the particular issue at hand.

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RECOMMENDED RESOURCES

Tactics, Greg Koukl (I am indebted to Mr. Koukl for the knowledge/wisdom/character template. You can learn more about Mr. Koukl and his ministry, Stand To Reason, at str.org).

Stand to Reason’s Ambassador’s Creed

Love Your God With All Your Mind, JP Moreland