Why the Resurrection of Jesus Matters

Not to my surprise, topics that center on the existence of God or the resurrection of Jesus, brings up the issue of relevancy.  In other words, in a somewhat post modern world, people aren’t always asking whether it is true. Instead, they are asking, “What difference does this issue make in my life?”  I previously did a post called Does It Matter Whether God Exists? Even though I discuss these in this video here, here are a few reasons why I think such a topic such as the resurrection matters:

1.The Resurrection of Jesus provides evidence that the God of the Bible exists. Let’s look a the following syllogisms. 

I1. f Jesus rose from the dead, the God of the Bible exists
2. Jesus rose from the dead
3.Therefore, the God of the Bible exists (not Zeus, Thor or the Flying Spaghetti Monster)

“In a debate with Gary Habermas, former atheist Anthony Flew agreed that if it is a knowable fact that Jesus rose from the dead literally and physically it then constitutes “the best, if not the only, reason for accepting that Jesus is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel.”–Gary R. Habermas and Antony G. N. Flew, Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? The Resurrection Debate, ed. Terry L. Miethe (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985), 3

Next syllogism

1.If the God of the Bible exists, then I’m not a naturalistic accident
2.The God of the Bible exists
3. Therefore, I’m not a naturalistic accident

“The human race is just a chemical scum on a moderate-sized planet.” — Stephen Hawking

“In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”- Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden (New York: Basic Books. 1995), 133.

“Human beings cannot be deserving of a special measure of respect by virtue of their having been created ‘in God’s image’ when they have not been created at all (and there is no God). Thus the traditional conception of human dignity is also undermined in the wake of Darwin.”-R. Bontekoe, The Nature of Dignity (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008), 15– 16.

On theistic belief, all human beings enjoy, the right to life and the resources to sustain it, for life is a gift from God. Humans have a right to human dignity, i.e. the right to receive respect irrespective of age, gender, race or rank or any other way. A responsibility to secure/protect/establish the rights of others. Rights are linked to personhood. Because humans are made in the likeness of a personal God, they are intrinsically (essentially) valuable. Rights come by virtue of who we are by nature (or essence), not our function.

2. If Jesus rose from the dead, it provides answers to the four worldview questions. Let’s look at this syllogism. 

1 .If Jesus rose from the dead, it answers the four worldview questions
2. Jesus rose from the dead
3. Therefore, it answers the four most important worldview questions

Here are the four worldview questions:

1.How we view man’s origins/what is a human? (How did we get here?)

2. What is wrong with the world, and how to fix the problem? (The human condition)

3.Where are we headed as a human race? (Our destiny)

4. How we know right from wrong? (Morality)

Believe it or not, a worldview will impact our view of our vocation, our family, government, education, the environment, etc. A worldview also impacts ethical issues in our culture such as homosexuality, abortion, stem cell research etc. Remember, the issues of competing worldviews shape the past, present, and future of a nation.

3. If Jesus rose from the dead, it provides answers to existential questions. 

Existential Reasons for Belief in God: A Defense of Desires and Emotions for Faith - By: Clifford Williams

1.If Jesus rose from the dead, then people can have their existential needs met (i.e., need for meaning, hope, transcendence, love, security, etc.)

2.Jesus rose from the dead

3.Therefore, people can have their existential needs met.

These are some of the reasons why a topic such as the resurrection matters. Granted, I haven’t discussed objections or evidence for the resurrection of Jesus in this post. That’s a topic that has been discussed elsewhere.

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Is Jesus the Messiah? An Outline on Jewish Messianism

The Messiah Concept

1. What does the word Messiah mean? Messiah means “Anointed One” (Heb. messiah) (Gk. Christos) and  is derived from verbs that have the general meaning of “to rub something” or, more specifically, “to anoint someone.”

2.The Hebrew Bible records the anointing with oil of priests, kings,  and sometimes prophets as a sign of their special function in the Jewish community. “Anointed One” almost never refers to the Messiah in the Hebrew Bible.

3. The messianic concept also has a wider dimension than the royal, priestly, and/or prophetic person. Included in this wider view are the characteristics, tasks, goals, means, and consequences of the messianic person.

4. Remember that words and concepts are separate entities. “Word-bound” approaches to what really are concept studies can lead us astray.

5. The image of the Messiah and the idea of messianism comprise a broad concept that far outreaches the few instances where the term “anointed” is used. It is the concept that we are seeking to define, not merely one particular word.  This can only be achieved by reading not only the Bible but extra-biblical Jewish literature including the Apocrypha, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Philo, Josephus, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Targumim, etc. (see Craig Evans handout on Introduction to Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies).

6. Before 70 CE, we can hardly find any occurrence of the absolute term “the Messiah”; instead the word in Greek or Hebrew occurs with a genitive or possessive pronoun like “Messiah of Israel,” “Messiah of the Lord,” “Messiah of Aaron,” “Messiah of the Lord,” etc;  no single meaning is ever assumed.

7. Other names were used to describe the messianic person other than the “Messiah.” Some of the names include  “Son of David,” “ Son of God,” “ Son of Man,” “  Prophet,” “Elect One,” “Servant,” “ Prince,” “ Branch,” “Root,” “Scepter,” “Star,”  “Chosen One,” and “ Coming One.” (See section on messianic titles).

The Messianic Task:  Traditional Jewish Views

1. A personal Messiah is irrelevant; many Jewish people don’t see the need for a Messiah to fix the problems of the world.

2.  The Messiah is not divine. He is an earthy figure “anointed” to carry out a specific task.

3. The Messiah will enable the Jewish people to dwell securely in the land of Israel (Is.11:11-12; 43:5-6; Jer.23: 5-8; Mic.5:4-6), and usher in a period of worldwide peace.

4.  The Messiah is supposed to put an end to all oppression, suffering and disease (Is.2:1-22; 25:8; 65:25; Mic.4:1-4) and create a pathway for universal worship to the God of Israel (Zeph.3:9; Zech.9:16; 14:9).

5. The Messiah will spread the knowledge of the God of Israel to the surrounding nations (Isa.11:9; 40:5; 52:8).

 The Maimonides view of Messiah: Maimonides was a medieval Jewish philosopher whose writings are considered to be foundational to Jewish thought and study. Here are some of his messianic expectations:

1.  The Messiah will be a king who arises from the house of David

2.  He helps Israel follow Torah

3.  He builds the Temple in its place

4. He gathers the dispersed of Israel

 The Messiah in Rabbinical Literature

1Messiah Ben Yossef and Messiah Ben David: The prophecy of Zech. 12:10 is applied to Messiah ben Yossef in that he is killed and that it will be followed by a time of great calamities and tests for Israel. Shortly after these tribulations upon Israel, Messiah ben David will come and avenge the death of Messiah ben Yossef, resurrect him, and inaugurate the Messianic era of everlasting peace.

2.What is interesting is that R. Saadiah Gaon elaborated on the role of Messiah ben Yossef by starting that this sequence of events is contingent. In other words, Messiah ben Yossef will not have to appear before Messiah be David if the spiritual condition of Israel is up to par.

3.This is why it says in the Talmud, “If they [the people of Israel]  are worthy of [the Messiah] he will come ‘with the clouds of heaven’ [Dan 7:13] ;if they are not worthy, ‘lowly and riding upon a donkey’ [Zech. 9:9]” (b. Sanhedrin 98a

Messianic Fulfillment Depends on Moral Regeneration

1The advent of Messiah will not be heralded by the actions of a pagan or Christian king.

2. Israel’s salvation depends on Israel itself.

3.The Messiah will be a sage who will only come when Israel fully accepts God’s sole rule.

4.The coming of the Messiah is not dependent on historical action but on moral regeneration. How about reading John 3:3-8?

 The Davidic Messiah

The capitalized term “Messiah” is often confined to a precisely delineated concept, viz., the anointed king of the Davidic dynasty who would establish in the world the definite kingdom intended by God for Israel. Such a notion of the Messiah is the product of a long development traceable in three stages:

First Stage: Before Eighth Century BC

1. God promised that Israel would have an earthly king (Gen. 17:6; 49:6; Deut.17: 14-15)

2. Gen 49:9-12: alludes implicitly to the reign of David; this prophecy says the Messiah will have to come before the Tribe of Judah loses its identity.

3. The Davidic Covenant: David is promised that one of his descendants would rule on his throne forever (2 Sam.7:12-17; 1 Chr.17:7-15; Ps. 89:28-37). In 2 Samuel 7:12-17, the immediate prophecy is partially fulfilled in David’s son Solomon. However, the word “forever” shows there are future descendants to come.

4. The Royal Psalms:Psalm 2;72;110 are considered part of this first stage of messianism.

Second Stage:  Eighth Century BC to the Babylonian Exile

1. Messianic Expectation centers on the re-establishment of the throne of David and deliverance of Israel from its foreign oppressors.

2. This expectation resulted from disappointment at the destruction of Jerusalem and suspension of Davidic dynasty.

3. Isaiah: speaks of the time when God that would revive the Davidic dynasty and ensure its permanence. God would raise up a successor of David who would be unlike any past Davidic king (Is.7:14-17; 9:6-7;11:1-10), but he is not spoken of as “The Messiah.”

4. Micah 5:1-6 speaks of the new David coming from Bethlehem; Jer.23:5-6 uses messianic titles such as “branch” or “shoot” to describe this figure.

5. Amos likewise proclaimed that a figure would emerge from the Davidic lineage who would fulfill God’s covenant promises to the nations (9:11-15).Ezekiel spoke of a new David who would be a shepherd as well as a “prince” and a “king” to Israel (Ezek: 34:23-24; 37:24-25). This king’s function would help restore the Davidic dynasty after the exile.

Third Stage: From the Exile to NT Times           

The Psalms of Solomon (a Pharisaic composition written about 50 B.C.) describes the Davidic messianic expectation: The “Son of David” will:

1. Violently cast out foreign nations occupying Jerusalem (Pss.Sol:15,24-25,33)

2. Judge all the nations of the earth (Pss.17:4;31;38-39, 47) and cause the nations to  “serve him under his yoke” (Pss.Sol.17:32)

3. Reign over Israel in wisdom (Pss. Sol.17:23,28,31,35,41,18:8), which involves  removing all the foreigners from the land (Pss. Sol.17:31) and purging the land of unrighteous Israelites (Pss. Sol. 17:29, 33, 41) in order to eliminate all oppression (Pss. Sol.17:46) and gather to himself a holy people (Pss. Sol.17:28, 36;18:9).

Jesus as The Davidic King

1.  Jesus is of the “seed of David,” who was sent by God to restore God’s kingship over mankind (Matt. 1:1; Acts 13:23; Rom. 1:3,4; Rev. 22:16). Jesus  is both the son of David and the one greater than David (Psalm 110:1-4).

Let’s look at Romans 1:1-5

“Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints:Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

We see the following:

Paul says through the resurrection, Jesus is installed (by God) as the Son of God (Rom. 1:4). Paul is not saying Jesus is being appointed as The Son of God is a change in Jesus’ essense. The appointment is not in terms of his nature but in terms of his work as a mediator—the messianic age has dawned. Jesus is the Lord—the anti-type of the previous “sons” in the Old Testament (Adam, David, Israel).

Remember, the New Testament authors unanimously declare Jesus as the one who is from the “seed of David,” sent by God to restore God’s kingship over mankind (Matt. 1:1; Acts 13:23; Rom. 1:3,4; 2 Tim:2:8; Rev. 22:16). As seen in 2 Samuel 7:12-17, the immediate prophecy is partially fulfilled in David’s son Solomon. However, the word “forever” shows there are future descendants to come. God promised David that his “seed” would establish the kingdom. There were two ways for this prophecy to come to pass. Either God could continually raise up a new heir or he could have someone come who would never die. Does this sound like the need for a resurrection?

2. In following the pattern of the Hebrew Bible, Jesus (as the Davidic King) will return to this present earth and after the complete removal of all man’s kingdoms (cf. Dan 2:35;44;7:13-14; Zech 9:10;14:1-4;9-11;Matt24;27-31;25:31-33; Rev:11:15;19:11-16;20:1-6).

3. Remember Prophetic Telescoping:  Telescoped prophecy bridges the first and second appearances of Yeshua. In the second coming, “the obedience of the nations will be his,” and “His everlasting dominion will not pass away, his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed”; Gen 49:10-12: Dan 2:37-44;7:13-14; Psalm 2: Isa.9-6-7;11:1-10.

Messianic Expectations (cont):  Priestly Messiah: The priest (Heb. cohanim) was anointed in his role as a mediator between God and the Jewish people because of his ability make to make atonement (Lev.4:26;31,35;5:6,10; 14:31).

1. There are implicit passages in the Hebrew Bible that discuss a priestly aspect of the Messiah (Hag:1:12-14; 2:2-4; 20-23; Zech:3:6-10;4:2-5,11-14).

2. In the Qumran community which predated the time of Yeshua was convinced there were possibly two Messiahs, one priestly and one royal (1QS 9.11; CD 12.22-23; 13. 20-22; 14. 18-19; 19.34-20.1; CD-B 1.10-11; 2.1; 1Q Sa 2. 17-22).

3. Forgiving sins was a prerogative of God alone (Exod. 34: 6-7; Neh.9:17; Dan. 9:9;) and it was something that was done only in the Temple.

4. The Messiah’s priestly work is seen in Psalm 110:1-4.

5. As with Melchizedek, Jesus was without the ancestral, genealogical credentials necessary for the Aaronic priesthood ( Hebrews 7:3 Hebrews 7:13 Hebrews 7:16 ), he was also before Aaron and the transitory, imperfect law and Levitical priesthood  ( Hebrews 7:11-12 Hebrews 7:17-18 ; 8:7 ). Melchizedek, Aaron, and his descendants all died, preventing them from continuing in office ( 7:23 ). Jesus has been exalted to a permanent priesthood by his resurrection and enthronement at the right hand of God in the heaven ( 8:1 ).

 The Suffering/Atoning Messiah

1. There are several texts that speak to the possibility of a suffering Messiah (Zech 13:7; Dan 9:26; Tg.Isa.53; T.Benj.3:8; 4Q521frgs.9, 24; 4Q285 5.4; 4 Ezra7:29-30;2 Bar.30:1).

2. There are also several expressions of the belief that the death of the righteous will benefit, or even save, God’s people (1 Macc: 6:26-28 17:20-22; T Moses 9-10).

The Prophetic Messiah

1. The characteristics of the prophet (Heb. nabi) of Deuteronomy 18:15-19: (1) He would be an Israelite; (2) he would be like Moses; and (3) he would be authorized to declare the word of God with authority.

2. Emphasis on listening to the Prophet: See Mathew 17:5

3. Jesus says “I say to you,” thirteen times in this one sermon (Matt. 18,20,22,28,32,34,39,44;6:2,5,16,25,29). He even challenged his hearers to base their own lives on his words (Matt. 7:24,26). Jesus cites not one single rabbi or religious authority. Scholars have found no precedent in the Tanakh, nor have scholars found any precedent in the rest of ancient Jewish literature.

4. Miracles have a distinctive purpose: to glorify the Creator and to provide evidence for people to believe by accrediting the message of God through the prophet of God. Miracles confirmed the prophetic claim: Moses (Ex. 4:1-5; 8-9); Elijah (1 Kings 18:38–39).

5.  Miracles confirmed the Messianic claim of Jesus  (Matt 12: 38-39; John 3: 1-2; Acts 2: 22).

6.  Matt. 11:4-6: Jesus’s evidential claim can be seen in the following syllogism:
1. If one does certain kinds of actions, then one is the Messiah.
2. I am doing those kinds of actions.
3. Therefore, I am the Messiah.

Michael Bird’s excellent book Are You the One Who Is to Come?: The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question, has some insight about this issue as well. Bird says:

“It is historically naive to depict first-century Palestine as ravaged with continual uprisings and to posit some Roman occupying forces as having to put down one messianic pretender after another. Alternatively, it is equally reductionistic to suppose that many of the tumultuous events of the first century were untouched by messianism. The death of Herod the Great led to several uprisings; although things cooled for a while, in the period 4 BCE to 66 CE, there were many socioreligious movements at the time of the procurators that show expectation and hope for God’s miraculous interventions and gradually a spirit of zealotry beginning to emerge. I doubt that we have to wait as long as Simon ben Kosiba in 135 CE to find another messianic leader after the death of Jesus. The following lists indicate messianic expectations that are explicitly titular or implicitly messianic.”-Are You the One Who Is to Come?: The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question, pgs 47-49.

Bird goes onto list the expectations using the title “Messiah.” Notice that Bird knows  in order to understand messianism, we need to read the Bible but also read extra-biblical Jewish literature including the Apocrypha, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Philo, Josephus, The Dead Sea Scrolls,  and the Targumim, etc, (see Craig A Evans: “Introduction” to Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies: A Guide to the Background Literature).

“Messiah of Aaron and Israel” (CD 12.23–13.1; 14.19; 19.10–11; 20.1; 1QS 9.11)

“Messiah of Israel” (1QSa 2.12, 14, 20)

“Messiah of righteousness” (4Q252 frg. 1 5.3–4)

“Heaven and earth will obey his Messiah” (4Q521 2.1)

“Their king shall be the Lord’s Messiah” (Pss. Sol. 17.32; cf. 18.7)

“May God cleanse Israel for the day of mercy and blessing for the appointed day when his Messiah will reign” (Pss. Sol. 18.5)

“Lord of the Spirits and his Messiah” (1 En. 48.10)

“authority of the Messiah” (1 En. 52.4)

“For my son the Messiah shall be revealed with those who are with him” (4 Ezra 7.28) “

“This is the Messiah whom the Most High has kept until the end of days, who will arise from the offspring of David” (4 Ezra 12.32) “The Messiah will begin to be revealed” (2 Bar. 29.3) “when the time of the appearance of the Messiah has been fulfilled” (2 Bar. 30.1) “the kingship of the house of David, thy righteous Messiah” (Shemoneh ‘Esreh 14)

Son of Man: (Dan. 7:13–14; 1 En. 46.1–5; 48.2; 62.1–15; 63.11; 69.27–29; 71.14–17; 4 Ezra 13.1–13, 25–26; Justin Martyr, Dial. 31–32)

Man/Ruler: (Philo, Rewards 95; Num. 24:7, 17 LXX) Rod (CD 7.19–20; Justin Martyr, Dial. 100, 126) Prince (Ezek. 34:24; 37:25; Dan. 9:25–26; CD 7.20; 1QSb 5.20; 1QM 3.16; 5.1; 4Q285 frgs. 4–6; Jub. 31.18; Sib. Or. 3.49–50)

Branch of David: (4Q161 frgs. 8–10.15, 22; 4Q252 5.3; 4Q285 frg. 5.3–4; T. Jud 24.4–6) Scepter (1QSb 5.27–28; 4Q161 frgs. 2–4 2.9–13; frgs. 5–6 3.17; frgs. 8–10, 22–26; 4Q252 5.2)

Son of God :(4Q246 1.9; 2.1; Mark 15:39)

Elect/Chosen One (1 En. 39.6; 40.5; 45.3; 48.6; 49.2, 4; 51.3, 5; 52.6, 9; 53.6; 55.4; 61.5, 8, 10; 62.1; Apoc. Abr. 31.1)

King (Mark 15.32 and par.; Sib. Or. 3.286–87, 652) Snow-white cow/horned ram (1 En. 90.9–12, 37–38) Star (T. Levi 18.3; T. Jud. 24.1; Sib. Or. 5.158–60)

Righteous One (Acts 3:14; 22:14; 1 John 2:1; 1 En. 38.2; 53.6)

Historical figures referred to as “Messiah”:

Jesus of Nazareth

Simon ben Kosiba

Implicitly messianic historical figures not referred to as “Messiah”:

Judas the Galilean Simon the servant of Herod

Athronges Menahem Simon bar Giora-

 

 Figures who claimed royal prerogatives between 4 B.C.E and 68-70 C.E but are not called “the” or “a” Messiah:

1. In Galilee 4 B.C.E.: Judas, son of bandit leader Ezekias (War 2.56;Ant.17.271-72)

2. In Perea 4 B.C.E.: Simon the Herodian slave (War 2.57-59;Ant 17.273-77)

3. In Judea 4 B.C.E.: Athronges, the shepherd (War 2.60-65;Ant 17.278-84)

4. Menahem: grandson of Judas the Galilean (War 2.433-34, 444)

5. Simon, son of Gioras (bar Giora) War 2.521, 625-54;4.503-10, 529;7.26-36, 154)

Sources:

1Berger, D. The Rebbe, The Messiah, And The Scandal Of Orthodox Indifference. Portland, Oregon: The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization. 2001, 171-173.

2 Bird, M.F.,Are You The One To Come? The Historical Jesus and the Messianic QuestionGrand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009.

3.  Brown, R.E. An Introduction to New Testament Christology. Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press, 1994, 155-161.

4. Evans, C.A. and P. W. Flint. Eschatology, Messianism, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1997.

5.  Elwell, W. Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology.Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1996.

6.  Schochet, J.I. Mashiach: The Principle of Mashiach and the Messianic Era in Jewish Law and Tradition. New York: S.I.E. 1992, 93-101.

7.  Zannoni, A. Jews and Christians Speak of Jesus. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.1994, 113-114.

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Can We Trust Eyewitness Memory?

A ways back I wrote a post called A Look at the Jesus Story, Oral Tradition and Eyewitness Memory.

Hopefully, both the Christian and the non-Christian should be able to agree that since historians can’t verify the events directly, they rely on things such as written documents (both primary and secondary sources), external evidence/archaeology, and the testimony of the witnesses to the events.

One thing that should be noted: high impact events that have strong emotional involvement can be remembered with great accuracy over a long period. For example, my sister died in 1973. Even though I was four years old at the time, I can still remember much of the details of the day it happened. Obviously, high impact events such as a death of a loved one, or an event like the Holocaust can leave a lasting impression on the witnesses who participated in the event. In other words, a survivor of the Holocaust can testify by saying, “I was there.”  Many of us can concur that we rely on the testimony of others on a regular basis.  New Testament faith is portrayed biblically as knowledge based upon testimony. It is common for the Christian to cite some of the following passages:

• Acts 2:32: “This Jesus God raised up, and we are all witnesses of it.”

• Acts 3:14-15: “But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses.”

• Acts 5:30-32: “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. “He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. “And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.”

• 1 John 1:1: “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the Word of life”

• Acts 10:39 : “We are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and (in) Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree.”

• Acts 4:19-20: “Peter and John, however, said to them in reply, “Whether it is right in the sight of God for us to obey you rather than God, you be the judges. It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.”

• 1 Peter 5:1: “So I exhort the presbyters among you, as a fellow presbyter and witness to the sufferings of Christ and one who has a share in the glory to be revealed.”

• 2 Peter 1:19: ” We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.”

• John 21:24: “This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.”

I also wanted to mention the following. One book in the New Testament that plays as indispensable role in evaluating the resurrection of Jesus is the book of Acts. It is within Acts that we see the resurrection was part of the early apostolic preaching and the evidence given that Christianity is true (Acts 2:25-32; 3: 15; 10:39-41; 17:2-3, 18, 31). It is also within Acts that records Paul’s testimony to the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 9:1-9; 22: 1-11; 26: 9-19).

Eduard Meyer, the distinguished historian of classical antiquity, commented that Luke’s work in spite of a more limited content, “bears the same character as those of great historians, of a Polybius, a Livy and many others.”(See Meyer, E.M. and Strange, J., Archaeology, the Rabbis and Early Christianity. London:SCM, 1981).

In his monumental work called The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, classics scholar Colin Hemer has shown that Luke has also done his work as an historian. On pp. 108-58, Hemer chronicles Luke’s accuracy in the book of Acts almost verse by verse. Here is a list of eighty-four facts in the last 16 chapters of Acts that have been confirmed by historical and archaeological research. I should note that I am thankful to Dr. Tim McGrew for adding some additional research to these 84 points.

As you read the following list, keep in mind that Luke did not have access to modern-day maps or nautical charts.

Luke accurately records:

1. A natural crossing between correctly named ports. (Acts 13:4-5) Mt. Casius, which is south of Seleucia, is within sight of Cyprus.

2. The proper port (Perga) along the direct destination of a ship crossing from Cyprus (13:13)

3. The proper location of Iconium in Phrygia rather than in Lycaonia. (14:6) This identification was doubted because it challenges some sources reflecting boundary changes from a different date, but the ethnic inclusion of Iconium in Phrygia is confirmed by the geographical distribution of Neo-Phrygian texts and onomastic study.

4. The highly unusual but correct heteroclitic declension of the name Lystra. (14:6) This is paralleled in Latin documents.

5. The Lycaonian language spoken in Lystra. (14:11) This was unusual in the cosmopolitan, Hellenized society in which Paul moved. But the preservation of the local language is attested by a gloss in Stephanus of Byzantium, who explains that “Derbe” is a local word for “juniper.” Hemer lists many other native names in the Lystra district.

6. Two gods known to be so associated—Zeus and Hermes. (14:12) These are paralleled epigraphically from Lystra itself, and the grouping of the names of Greek divinities is peculiarly characteristic of the Lystra district.

7. The proper port, Attalia, which returning travelers would use. (14:25) This was a coasting port, where they would go to intercept a coasting vessel, by contrast with Perga (13:13), a river port.

8. The correct order of approach (Derbe and then Lystra) from the Cilician Gates. (16:1; cf. 15:41)

9. The form of the name “Troas,” which was current in the first century. (16:8)

10. The place of a conspicuous sailors’ landmark, Samothrace, dominated by a 5000 foot mountain. (16:11)

11. The proper description of Philippi as a Roman colony, and the correct identification of its seaport as Nea Polis, which is attested both in manuscripts and in numismatic evidence. (16:12)

12. The right location of the Gangites, a small river near Philippi. (16:13)

13. The identification of Thyatira as a center of dyeing. (16:14) This is attested by at least seven inscriptions of the city.

14. The proper designation for the magistrates of the colony as strategoi (16:22), following the general term archontes in v. 19.

15. The proper locations (Amphipolis and Apollonia, cities about 30 miles apart) where travelers would spend successive nights on this journey to Thessalonica. (17:1)

16. The presence of a synagogue in Thessalonica. (17:1) This is attested by a late 2nd AD inscription. (CIJ 693)

17. The proper term (“politarchs”) used of the magistrates in Thessalonica. (17:6) See Horsley’s article in the Anchor Bible Dictionary, in loc.

18. The correct implication that sea travel is the most convenient way of reaching Athens, with the favoring “Etesian” winds of the summer sailing season. (17:14-15)

19. The abundant presence of images in Athens. (17:16)

20. The reference to a synagogue in Athens. (17:17) See CIJ 712-15.

21. The depiction of philosophical debate in the Agora, which was characteristic of Athenian life. (17:17)

22. The use of the correct Athenian slang word for Paul (spermologos, “seed picker,” 17:18) as well as for the court (Areios pagos, “the hill of Ares,” 17:19)

23. The proper characterization of the Athenian character. (17:21) This, however, might be attributed to common knowledge.

24. An altar to an “unknown god.” (17:23) Such altars are mentioned by Pausanias and Diogenes Laertius. Note also the aptness of Paul’s reference to “temples made with hands,” (17:24), considering that Paul was speaking in a location dominated by the Parthenon and surrounded by other shrines of the finest classical art.

25. The proper reaction of Greek philosophers, who denied the bodily resurrection. (17:32) See the words of Apollo in Aeschylus, Eumenides 647-48.

26. The term “Areopagites,” derived from areios pagos, as the correct title for a member of the court. (17:34)

27. The presence of a synagogue at Corinth. (18:4) See CIJ 718.

28. The correct designation of Gallio as proconsul, resident in Corinth. (18:12) This reference nails down the time of the events to the period from the summer of 51 to the spring of 52.

29. The bema (judgment seat), which overlooks Corinth’s forum. (18:16ff.)

30. The name “Tyrannus,” which is attested from Ephesus in first-century inscriptions. (19:9)

31. The shrines and images of Artemis. (19:24) Terracotta images of Artemis (= Diana) abound in the archaeological evidence.

32. The expression “the great goddess Artemis,” a formulation attested by inscriptions at Ephesus. (19:27)

33. The fact that the Ephesian theater was the meeting place of the city. (19:29) This is confirmed by inscriptional evidence dating from AD. 104. (See OGIS 480.8-9.)

34. The correct title “grammateus” for the chief executive magistrate in Ephesus. (19:35) This is amply attested in inscriptional evidence.

35. The proper title of honor “neokoros,” commonly authorized by the Romans for major cities that possessed an official temple of the imperial cult. (19:35) See Wankel, Die Inschriften von Ephesus, 300.

36. The term “he theos,” the formal designation of the goddess. (19:37) See the Salutaris document, passim.

37. The proper term (“agoraioi hemerai”) for the assizes, those holding court under the proconsul. (19:38)

38. The use of the plural “anthupatoi,” (19:38), a remarkable reference to the fact that at that precise time, the fall of AD 54, two men were conjointly exercising the functions of proconsul at this time because their predecessor, Silanus, had been murdered. See Tacitus, Annals 13.1; Dio Cassius 61.6.4-5. This is one point where Ramsay’s work has been superseded in a way that reflects great credit on Luke’s accuracy.

39. The “regular” assembly, as the precise phrase is attested elsewhere. (19:39) The concept is mentioned repeatedly in the Salutaris inscription, IBM 481.339-40 = Wankel 27, lines 468-69.

40. The use of a precise ethnic designation, “Beroiaios.” (20:4) This is attested in the local inscriptions.

41. The employment of the characteristic ethnic term “Asianos,” meaning “Greeks in Asia.” (20:4) Cf. IGRR 4.1756, where the Greeks honor a Sardian citizen with this designation (lines 113, 116).

42. The implied recognition of the strategic importance assigned to the city of Troas, where Paul spent as long as his tight schedule would permit. (20:7ff.)

43. The naturalness and geographic feasibility of Paul’s decision to travel twenty miles overland, rejoining the ship’s company at Assos, while they doubled Cape Lectum (modern Cape Baba), the westernmost point in Anatolian Turkey. (20:13) The ship’s trip, though only about 40 miles, was somewhat precarious; the west coast of the Troad south of Troy has many miles of low exposed cliffs with no good natural harbour north of Cape Lectum, and the alternative harbor at the offshore island of Tenedos affords poor shelter.

44. An entirely natural sequence of places—Assos, Mitylene, Kios, Samos, Miletus—for the next leg of the return trip. (20:14-15)

45. The correct name of the city, “Patara,” as a neuter plural. (21:1) This is confirmed in the local epigraphy.

46. The appropriate route passing across the open sea south of Cyprus favored by persistent northwest winds. (21:3)

47. The distance from Ptolemais (Akko) to Caesarea, which is 30 miles, a suitable day’s journey by either sea or coastal road. (21:8)

48. a characteristically Jewish act of piety (21:24)

49. The Jewish law regarding Gentile use of the temple area (21:28) (Archaeological discoveries and quotations from Josephus confirm that Gentiles could be executed for entering the temple area. One inscription reads: “Let no Gentile enter within the balustrade and enclosure surrounding the sanctuary. Whoever is caught will be personally responsible for his consequent death.”2)

50. The permanent stationing of a Roman cohort (chiliarch) at Antonia to suppress any disturbance at festival times (21:31)

51. The flight of steps used by the guards (21:31, 35)

52. The common way to obtain Roman citizenship at this time (22:28)

53. The tribune being impressed with Roman rather than Tarsian citizenship (22:29)

54. Ananias being high priest at this time (23:2)

55. Felix being governor at this time (23:34)

56. The natural stopping point on the way to Caesarea (23:31)

57. whose jurisdiction Cilicia was in at the time (23:34)

58. The provincial penal procedure of the time (24:1-9)

59. The name Porcius Festus, which agrees precisely with that given by Josephus (24:27)

60. The right of appeal for Roman citizens (25:11)

61. The correct legal formula (25:18)

62. The characteristic form of reference to the emperor at the time (25:26)

63. The best shipping lanes at the time (27:5)

64. The common bonding of Cilicia and Pamphylia (27:4)

65. The principal port to find a ship sailing to Italy (27:5-6)

66. The slow passage to Cnidus, in the face of the typical northwest wind (27:7)

67. The right route to sail, in view of the winds (27:7)

68. The locations of Fair Havens and the neighboring site of Lasea (27:8)

69. Fair Havens as a poorly sheltered roadstead (27:12)

70. a noted tendency of a south wind in these climes to back suddenly to a violent northeaster, the well-known gregale (27:13)

71. The nature of a square-rigged ancient ship, having no option but to be driven before a gale (27:15)

72. The precise place and name of this island (27:16)

73. The appropriate maneuvers for the safety of the ship in its particular plight (27:16)

74. The fourteenth night – a remarkable calculation, based inevitably on a compounding of estimates and probabilities, confirmed in the judgment of experienced Mediterranean navigators (27:27)

75. The proper term of the time for the Adriatic (27:27)

76. The precise term (Bolisantes) for taking soundings, and the correct depth of the water near Malta (27:28)

77. a position that suits the probable line of approach of a ship released to

run before an easterly wind (27:39)

78. The severe liability on guards who permitted a prisoner to escape (27:42)

79. The local people and superstitions of the day (28:4-6)

80. The proper title protos t’s nsou (28:7)

81. Rhegium as a refuge to await a southerly wind to carry them through the strait (28:13)

82. Appii Forum and Tres Tabernae as correctly placed stopping places on the Appian Way (28:15)

83. appropriate means of custody with Roman soldiers (28:16)

84. The conditions of imprisonment, living “at his own expense” (28:30-31)

One more thing. Cambridge New Testament scholar G.M. Stanton has discovered that the grammar, literary style, theological motifs and emphases, tone and use of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament are different from Acts 1-12 than those in chapters 13-28. Also, the speeches in Acts 1-12 contain a number of Semitic phrases and other features that indicate that it is a Greek translation from an early Aramaic source. This is what we should expect if these speeches were historically accurate. Since Peter is the speaker in Acts 12, he is addressing Jewish audiences in Aramaic. But since Paul is speaking in Acts 13-28, he is addressing a Gentile audience. Hence, he is speaking in Greek. So these issues only strengthen our confidence in these speeches as being historically reliable.

In his book The Reliability of John’s Gospel, Craig Blomberg has identified 59 people, events, or places that have been confirmed by archaeology such as:

1.The use of stone water jars in the New Testament (John 2:6).
2. The proper place of Jacob’s well (2:8)
3. Josephus in (Wars of the Jews 2.232), confirms there was significant hostility between Jews and Samaritans during Jesus’ time (4:9).
4. “Went Up” accurately describes the ascent to Jerusalem(5:1).
5. Archaeology confirms the existence of the Pool of Siloam (9:7)
6. The obscure and tiny village of Ephraim (11:54) near Jerusalem is mentioned by Josephus.
7. “Come down” accurately describes the topography of western Galilee.(There’s a significant elevation drop from Cana to Capernaum). (4:46;49, 51).
8. Caiaphas was the high priest that year (11:49); we learn from Josephus that Caiaphas held the office from A.D 18-37.

To see a complete list, click here:

 Luke’s Gospel

Luke 1:4: “Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us, I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received”

We see that Luke:

  1. Was not a direct eyewitness of the events recorded in his Gospel.

  2. He was acquainted with earlier accounts.

  3. He had used personal information from those who “from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word.”

  4. The results of his won careful research had simulated him to write his gospel.

  5. He was a man of scholarly methods and could claim thoroughness, accuracy and reliability of his production.

  6. He was a man of considerable literary ability. This is evident in the from the balanced literary structure of the prologue. This shows Luke was probably familiar with other classical writers such as Herodotus, Thucydides and Polybious.

Furthermore, Luke’s Gospel shows displays a variety of historical figures that have been confirmed. For example, Luke gives correct titles for the following officials: Cyprus, proconsul (13:7–8); Thessalonica, politarchs (17:6); Ephesus, temple wardens (19:35); Malta, the first man of the island. Each of these has been confirmed by Roman usage. In all, Luke names thirty-two countries, fifty-four cities, and nine islands without an error. (see See Geisler, N. L., BECA, pg 431).

Also, I posted last week the following: Here is an interview with Craig Evans on “Is the Bible Reliable?” Note that in this interview here he says:

“Archaeology usually clarifies things. If Jesus didn’t exist and the Gospels are fictions, then how is it that they get so much right? Why, at every place where they can be tested, do we find they are talking about real people, real events, real things that we can unearth? If we are talking about a nonexistent person who grew up in a nonexistent village, as some people actually allege, there was no Nazareth. Yet when we dig there, we find it. Historians are very interested in that. If you have an old document, one of the first tests is to ask, Does it really reflect life back then as we know it? If it does, the historian takes it seriously. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, the book of Acts—these are the basic narrative books of the New Testament. They talk about real people, real events, real places, and the archaeologist can show that; so a fictional, nonexistent Jesus makes no sense of the actual hard data we have.”

Interviewer: You mention solid first-century evidence of Jesus. What does it consist of?

Evans: “Well, it says He goes to a synagogue at a certain place. The place exists, and there is a synagogue there. He talks about being in a fishing boat with His disciples and crossing the Sea of Galilee. We have pictures of fishing boats and we actually have a fishing boat that probably was old and out of service in the time of Jesus; it would hold the disciples. So what we find is that every time the Gospels say something, it coheres with the way it was. You also have sources outside the Bible talking about Jesus. Historians know who He is. Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian, explains to his readers who He is and what happened to Him and how He was crucified by the Roman governor. If you are not willing to listen to those sources and take them seriously—Christian ones, Jewish ones, pagan ones—then you are not interested in doing history. You are not open-minded at all. You really don’t want to hear what the evidence has to say.”

If you want to go deeper on the kinds of archaeological  finds on the NT, see Peter S. Williams examines the historical reliability of the New Testament in the light of the findings of archaeology.

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Was Antony Flew’s Change of Mind a Victory for Christian Apologetics?

I recently finished the book An Introduction to Christian Worldview: Pursuing God’s Perspective in a Pluralistic World, by Tawa J. Anderson, W. Michael Clark, and David K. Naugle. In this book they note the change that happened to Antony Flew.  As they note,  Flew was Britain’s most prominent philosophical atheist in the latter half of the twentieth century. The philosophical world was shocked when, in 2004, he declared that he had rejected the core beliefs of his atheistic worldview and now embraced the existence of a deistic creator of the universe. Flew’s atheistic worldview had been held consciously; he had examined his worldview beliefs and in fact had written copiously on questions of divine nonexistence. Nonetheless, his worldview changed as a result of his understanding of contemporary evidence from cosmology and physics that points to the existence of an intelligent designer and creator of the universe.

There Is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind by [Flew, Antony, Varghese, Roy Abraham]

I read most of Flew’s book called “There is a God: How the World’s Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind.” When the book was released, some atheists said Flew was an senile old man. Thus, he wasn’t capable of making a good judgment. Anyway, many Christian apologists noted that Flew’s change proved that for those who are open to the evidence, a worldview conversion is possible.

While apologists are correct about a worldview conversion taking place, to the best of our knowledge, Flew never did embrace the Gospel. Yes, Flew did resurrection dialogues with Gary Habermas and noted the resurrection was the best attested miracle he had seen. But the real question is, “Should we celebrate what happened to Flew?” I think the answer is yes and no. Apologetics doesn’t convert anyone. It removes the barriers that helps people give the Gospel a serious hearing. Obviously, some of the barriers that had been in Flew’s mind did get removed. Also, cosmological and design arguments don’t give anyone saving faith. They take someone halfway and then the person must be willing to take a serious look at history. Has God spoken through Jesus? Only God know if Flew came to believe that God had spoken through His Son.

In the end, I don’t look at what happened to Flew as a total victory. Apologetics did the work it needed to do. But the final goal is bring someone to saving faith in the risen Lord. Perhaps, one day we will know what really happened to Flew.

 

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Which Takes Priority? Natural or Revealed Theology?

The skeptical issue in our culture mostly enters into the religious dialogue in the following way: “In the case of God, who isn’t some material object but a divine being, what kind of evidence should we expect to find? There is a tendency to forget that the Bible stresses that sin can dampen the cognitive faculties that God has given us to find Him. Therefore, sin has damaging consequences on the knowing process (Is. 6:9-10; Zech. 7:11-12; Matt. 13:10-13). Christianity, Judaism, Islam, are all theistic faiths in contrast to pantheism (all is God), polytheism (many gods), and atheism (without God). Therefore, the God of the Bible is capable of giving a revelation to mankind through a specific medium. One of the most important themes of the Bible is that since God is free and personal, that he acts on behalf of those whom he loves, and that his actions includes already within history, a partial disclosure of his nature, attributes, and intentions. (1)

Hence, the acceptance of revelation, therefore, is, of fundamental importance to the Christian faith. The word “revelation” comes from the Greek word ” apokalupsis” which means “an “uncovering,” or “unveiling.”

When I was in my early 20’s, I was asking questions about the Christian faith. I had been raised in a church but was by no means a committed Christian. I was one of many nominal Christians. The more I look back on it, this is the pattern God used to reach me. By the way, we find this pattern in the Bible itself.

What are the mediums that God chooses to reveal Himself to man?
1. General Revelation: Creation: (external manifestation)
2. General Revelation: Conscience: (internal manifestation)
3. Special Revelation: The Messiah: (external manifestation)
4. Special Revelation: A Messenger: (external manifestation)

Medium #1- The Light of Creation: While God predominately revealed Himself to the Jewish people through specific actions in the course of human history, the Jewish people agree that the Torah was the pivotal moment of God’s supreme revelation to them. But what about the Gentile nations? After all, it is Israel that was given the Torah. The good news is God has also taken the initiative to reveal Himself to Gentiles through general or natural revelation. In the case of God, who isn’t some physical object but a divine, invisible being, we have to use induction. Induction is the method of drawing general conclusions from specific observations. For example, since we can’t observe gravity directly, we only observe its effects.

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known of God is revealed in them, for God revealed it to them. For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity; that they may be without excuse. Because, knowing God, they didn’t glorify him as God, neither gave thanks, but became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless heart was darkened.” (Rom.1:18-21)

In this passage, God’s knowledge is described as “eternal power and divine nature.” Paul lays out the basic principle of cause and effect. Paul says since God is the Designer (God is the cause), His “everlasting power and divinity” are obvious, “through the things that are made” (this is the effect).

Romans Ch1:18: The word “suppress,” means “to consciously dismiss in the mind,”to “hold down”, or to “hold back by force or to dismiss.” However, that which is “suppressed” is not destroyed. As much as humans try to suppress the truth of God’s existence, the human mind is still aware of their moral accountability to Him. In relation to this passage, Paul says God’s revelation says is not hidden or concealed. The reason this revelation is clear is because God shows it to him.

In other words, God makes knowledge of Himself available to man! The creation gives a cognitive knowledge of God’s existence but not saving knowledge. However, according to Romans 1:18-21, man is not left in ignorance about God.

Theologians, philosophers, and apologists have made significant comments in relation to Romans 1:18-21. Here are a few of them:

1. The revelation of God in nature is mediate, but it is so manifest and so clear that it does not necessitate a complex theoretical reasoning process that could be achieved only by a group of geniuses. If God’s general revelation is in fact “general,” in that it is plain enough for all to see clearly without complicated cosmological argumentation, then it may even be said to be self evident. The revelation is clear enough for an unskilled and illiterate person to perceive it. The memory of conscious knowledge of the trauma encounter with God’s revelation is not maintained in its lucid, threatening state, but is repressed. It is “put down or held in captivity” in the unconsciousness. That which is repressed is not destroyed. The memory remains though it may be buried in the subconscious realm. Knowledge of God is unacceptable, and as a result humans attempt to blot it out or at least camouflage it in such a way that its threatening character can be concealed or dulled. (Sproul, R.C, Gerstner, John and Arthur Lindsey. Classical Apologetics: A Rational Defense of the Christian Faith and a Critique of Presuppositional Apologetics. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing.1984, 46-59).

2. Former atheist J. Budziszewski:

I am not at present concerned to explore Paul’s general claim that those who deny the Creator are wicked but only his more particular claim that they are intellectually dishonest. Notice that he does not criticize nonbelievers because they do not know about God but ought to. Rather, he criticizes them because they do know about God but pretend to themselves that they don’t. According to his account, we are not ignorant of God’s reality at all. Rather, we “suppress” it; to translate differently, we “hold it down.” With all our strength we try not to know it, even though we can’t help knowing it; with one part of our minds we do know it, while with another we say, “I know no such thing.” From the biblical point of view, then, the reason it is so difficult to argue with an atheist—as I once was—is that he is not being honest with himself. He knows there is a God, but he tells himself that he doesn’t. How can a person explain how he reached new first principles? By what route could he have arrived at them? To what deeper considerations could he have appealed? If the biblical account is true, then it would seem that no one really arrives at new first principles; a person only seems to arrive at them. The atheist does not lack true first principles; they are in his knowledge already, though suppressed. The convert from atheism did not acquire them; rather, things he knew all along were unearthed. ( Geisler, N. L. and Paul K. Hoffman. Why I Am A Christian. Leading Thinkers Explain Why They Believe. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House. 2001, 49).

 

Paul says that God’s existence and attributes can be “clearly seen” (Romans 1:18-20) since they have been “shown” to the unbelieving world through “the things that are made” (nature). Notice that Paul never posits that we can view God as a material object. But he does say that people should be able to look at the effects in the world and infer that there is a Creator.

The interesting thing is I always knew from my observations of the natural world that there was a Creator. I knew this before I began to read the Bible. This is why it is called natural theology.

Medium#2: The Light of Conscience

“For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.” (Romans 2:12-15).

The Greek word for conscience is “suneidesis” which means “a co-knowledge, of oneself, the witness borne to one’s conduct by conscience, that faculty by which we apprehend the will of God as that which is designed to govern our lives; that process of thought which distinguishes what it considers morally good or bad, condemning the good, condemning the bad, and so prompting to do the former, and avoid the latter.” This type of natural revelation is called intuitive knowledge. It is instantaneously apprehended. The issue of moral knowledge is what C.S. Lewis discusses in The Abolition of Man. Lewis recalls that all cultures, Greek, Hebrew, Egyptian, Babylonian etc. show that natural revelation is true. In Romans 2:15, “suneidesis” stands alongside with the “heart” and “thoughts” as the faculty that allows the pagan world to live a life that corresponds to the Jewish people who have the written law. (3) Before the time of Jesus, and even after Jesus, the Jewish people viewed the heart as the core of the entire personality.

We should also note that natural theology (sometimes called “The Book of Nature”) also shows traces of God’s handiwork in the following areas:

Why does natural theology matter? It matters because many people don’t think the Bible is authoritative nor inspired by God. Hence, for  Christians that are dogmatic about starting with the Bible can run into some roadblocks.Let me also share what Peter May says here in his article called ” Karl Barth and Natural Theology?” May  says:

A few years ago, I organised what I hoped would be a debate on Islam. A leading British Muslim agreed to take part and debate with Professor Gary Habermas.

The Muslim agreed to promote the meeting and promised that many Muslims would attend. In the event, he came alone with his driver and seemingly no other Muslim attended. Gary Habermas spoke first and presented his well known arguments concerning the earliest evidence for Christianity, focussing on the historicity of Paul’s creedal statement in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5. It was a powerful case, tracing the beliefs “of first importance”, concerning Christ’s death and resurrection, on sound documentary evidence back to within three to five years of the events themselves.

How would his opponent respond? Well, he didn’t. He engaged with none of the issues and offered no arguments at all to support his views. He merely stated his Islamic beliefs, interspersed with such phrases as, “We are taught to believe this…”,“We are told that…”. No justification of these Koranic beliefs was made at any point. His presentation was entirely ‘fideistic’, that is, a statement of faith, unargued and unengaged with any contrary opinion. Personally, I found it shocking. This did not even follow the rules of polite conversation, where you respond to what the other person has just said. There was no exchange. It was as if Habermas had said nothing.

The Fideism of Karl Barth

However, fideism is not confined to Muslims. The greatest Protestant theologian of the twentieth-century adopted entirely this approach. Karl Barth did not believe in arguments or evidences to proclaim Christianity, and his influence persists strongly today. Such rational approaches to belief could in his view do nothing to facilitate a personal encounter with Christ. The evidence of nature and apologetic reasoning had no role in bringing people to faith.

In his view, such rational thought could only be of benefit for those who already believed in God, and such belief could only come about by God’s revelation of himself. It cannot justify itself through external criteria. The argument he proposed went entirely one way – from God to the world and not from the world of human thought and experience towards God. Here is the antithesis of dialogue. God’s revelation must be accepted by faith, unaided by reason, whether historical, scientific, cultural, moral, psychological or social. Such fields of discourse do not overlap at any point with Barthian biblical theology.

God has revealed himself in two books, Scripture and Nature

In so doing, Barth broke free from the long Christian tradition that God has revealed himself in two books, Scripture and Nature; in what he has said and in what he has done. Needless to say, his approach plays straight into the hands of the New Atheists, who keep asserting that faith is a blind leap, unrelated to evidence. Endorsing such a view leaves us with no stepping-stones in our common experience. We are left with a take-it-or-leave-it, undiscussable, theological imperialism, whose truth claims must be accepted uncritically, lock, stock and barrel. This leap of faith is, of course, the same for most cults and religions including Islam, whose beliefs are walled off from intellectual enquiry and justification.

It also plays into the hands of Relativists, who maintain that the truth they have found is their personal truth: “it is true for me”. Keith Ward has written that adding those two words “for me” is “a central heresy of our culture”.[1] It is the ultimate denial of ‘public truth’, that reality which is objectively true for everyone, whether or not you believe it. And it plays into the hands of those for whom subjective experience is the final arbiter of truth, leaving them at the mercy of another experience. Such theology is undiscussable and loses all pretensions to be an academic discipline, with a rightful place in university life.[2]

Barth’s Historical Context

Barth’s approach was certainly extreme but, not surprisingly, it had an historical context. Barth was born in 1886 and was initially trained in Protestant Liberalism. He came to see that this human-centred approach to theology was too deeply immersed in German culture and he countered it in his preaching by emphasising Christ-centred, biblical theology. Matters came to a head when his former university teachers declared their support for German warmongering under Kaiser Bill.

The subsequent rise of Nazism between the wars led Barth to draw up the Barmen Declaration of the Confessing Church in 1934, which said:[3]

We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God’s revelation … as though there were areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ … as though the Church were permitted to abandon the form of its message … to changes in prevailing ideological and political convictions.

These were certainly heady days. An extreme theology came out of extreme circumstances! Natural theology, being linked with German national volk-religion, was set against the revealed religion of Christ in Scripture, and Barth’s theology became all the more extreme in its defence. His biblical theology became isolated from rationality, presupposing its own truth, which needed no justification. He maintained that God in his sovereignty makes himself knowable. Man in his sinfulness cannot otherwise obtain any knowledge of God. A great gulf is fixed, bridged only by God in disclosing himself in Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit. Such knowledge is entirely a work of grace, unaided by human intellect.

Responding to Fideism

What then can one say in response to such biblical fideism? Well, you could say it is self-defeating, as it denies rational justification for its beliefs. Why should anyone believe it? As rational beings, we demand rational justification for what we believe. It is essential to our humanity, a God-like property marking us out from other animals.

As rational beings, we demand rational justification for what we believe. It is essential to our humanity…

We might also say that it is particularly attractive to the intellectually lazy or timid, who cannot be bothered to answer people’s rational objections to faith. Such fragility is common. People justify their belief in Christ through their belief in the Bible, and justify their belief in the Bible through Christ’s teaching. The argument is entirely circular and closed off against further debate. Evangelism is made easy, believing that only God can open blind eyes and that we have no role in this. We can ‘tell’ others about the Gospel, and if they don’t grasp it, we can only tell them again, perhaps more loudly. This may be a caricature of what happens but, I suggest, it is close enough to the truth to be immediately recognisable. For many orthodox Christians, it justifies a ‘simple proclamation’ approach to evangelism, devoid of any need to persuade.

Inference to the Best Explanation

So ‘natural theology’ can only take us so far, but it does point to fundamental realities of our existence and provides a cumulative argument, while exposing the vacuum at the heart of human experience, the nihilism of a world without meaning or value. It points to the balance of probabilities and an inference to the best explanation.

  • Notice May says ” So ‘natural theology’ can only take us so far, but it does point to fundamental realities of our existence and provides a cumulative argument, while exposing the vacuum at the heart of human experience, the nihilism of a world without meaning or value.”
    I agree 100%! And Natural Theology can’t fully disclose the following:
  • The Character of God: we need a concrete communication to establish the exact  nature of God’s character. Who is God and what is He Like?
  • The Origin of Evil/The Fall: Man needs to be educated concerning the reasons for our situation.
  • Man’s Origin: Without a clear revelation, people might think they are the result of a blind, naturalistic process instead of being created in the image of God.
  • Mankind’s Destiny: In the absence of a revelation, we might think that this life is all there is.

Special Revelation/Revealed Theology

Therefore, while natural theology manifests God as Creator, it does not reveal Him as Redeemer. The principle of progressive revelation means that God does not reveal everything at once. In progressive revelation, there are many cases where the New Testament declares explicitly what was only implicit in the Tanakh. One of these truths is the Jesus is the long awaited Messiah who takes away not only the sins of Israel, but the entire world (John 1: 29; 3: 16). Although general revelation shows man is under condemnation, it is not sufficient for salvation. The ultimate special revelation that God has given to mankind is the person of Jesus the Messiah.

As Heb. 1:1–2 says, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son.” Jesus did comment on how people respond to Him by saying, “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light and does not come to the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” But he who practices the truth comes to the light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God” (John 3:19-21).

Furthermore, the New Testament does not reveal Jesus as any ordinary prophet or religious teacher. Rather, it reveals Him as God incarnate (John 1:1; 8:58-59;10:29-31;14:8-9;20-28; Phil 2:5-7; Col 2:9;Titus 2;13; Heb 1:8; 2 Peter 1:1). Furthermore, Jesus is the only possible Savior for the human race (Matt. 11:27; John 1:18; 3:36; 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 John 1: 5:11-12).

While Christianity is a Jewish story and salvation is from the Jews (John 4: 22), Paul makes it know that there is no distinction between Jewish and non-Jewish people. Both are under sin and must turn to God through repentance and faith through Jesus the Messiah. (Rom. 3: 9; Acts 20:21). For those who have already rejected Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus states that they already under condemnation (John 3: 16, 18).

Paul: The Need for Faith in Jesus the Messiah

“Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).

We see: (1) Paul is urgent in his appeal for repentance; (2) According to Acts 14: 26, Paul states there was “a time in which God allowed the nations to walk in their own ways,” but now Paul states in Acts 17: 30, “The times of ignorance is over” – God has given man more revelation in the person of Jesus the Messiah; (3) Paul uses the same language as is used in the Jewish Scriptures about judgment (Psalm 9:9); (4) The judgment will be conducted by an agent, a man who God has appointed; (5) Paul treats the resurrection as an historical fact and he uses it as a proof of God’s appointment as Jesus as the judge of the living and the dead!

Conclusion:

In the end, Christians are better off appealing to both natural and revealed theology. If someone is open to read the Bible and thinks it is plausible that God has revealed himself through a written text, then we may not have to utilize natural theology. But in other cases, we will have to utilize both natural and revealed theology.

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Comparing Apologetic Systems: Methodology and Practice

Apologetics is a branch of Christian theology that helps give reasons for the truthfulness of the Christian faith/worldview. The word “Apologia” means “to give reasons, make a legal defense” (Acts 26:2; 2 Tim. 4:16; 1 Pet 3:15). Throughout Acts, Luke uses words such as reason, (trying to) persuade, eyewitness, witness, defense. It is true that many other religions have their own apologists. But in this post, I will focus on what are called apologetics systems. Thus, we will discuss various types of Christian apologetic systems

Classical Apologetics

Classical apologetics operates in a two-or three step process (philosophical, theistic, and evidential). Working from the vantage point of certain undeniable foundational principles, such as the laws of logic and self-existence, certain philosophical questions are addressed, such as truth, reality, meaning, and morality. Since a belief in God as creator is essential for an individual to become a Christian (Hebrews 11:6), the primary goal is to help the unbeliever understand reality untainted by false assumptions. The second step offers evidence for the existence of God, usually in the form of traditional theistic arguments and empirical data such as manuscript and archaeological evidence. Norman L. Geisler’s and Frank Turek’s I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist is an example of a classical method.

The outline of the book goes like this:

1.Truth about reality is knowable
2. Opposites cannot both be true
3. The theistic God exists
4. Miracles are possible
5. Miracles performed in connection with a truth claim are acts of God to confirm the truth of God through a messenger of God
6. The New Testament documents are reliable
7. As witnessed in the New Testament, Jesus is God incarnate
8. Jesus’ claim to divinity was proven by an unique convergence of miracles/his resurrection
9. Therefore, Jesus was God in human flesh.
10. Whatever Jesus (who is God) affirmed as true, is true
11. Jesus affirmed that the Bible is the Word of God
12. Therefore, it is true that the Bible is the Word of God

We notice in Point #1 that Geisler and Turek are aware that we are living in a somewhat post-modern culture. That is why they point to the issue that truth is knowable. As seen above, the classical apologist generally starts with the evidence for God outside the Bible and then works his way to demonstrating that such a God would want to reveal more of Himself to the human race through special revelation. Hence, classical apologetics relies heavily on natural theology. Of course, the classical apologist knows that many faiths try to use miracles to validate the truth of their religion. Therefore, the classical apologist demonstrates that many of the miracle claims outside the Christian faith are lacking in historical/evidential support.

While natural laws may be descriptive, they certainly are not prescriptive. Therefore, the classical apologist will demonstrate that there are good philosophical reasons to believe that miracles are both possible and actual.

Reasonable-Faith-Christian-Truth-and-Apologetics-by-Craig-William-Lane-and

Probably the most well know defender of the faith that utilizes the classical model is William Lane Craig. If you watch any of the debates with Craig, anyone can see Craig utilize cosmology and other arguments for God outside the Bible before providing evidence about the resurrection of Jesus.

Classical apologetics has also been practiced by Augustine, Anselm, and Thomas Aquinas. Modern classical apologists also include Winfried Corduan, John Gerstner, Stuart Hackett, Peter Kreeft, C. S. Lewis, J. P. Moreland, and R. C. Sproul,.

Practical Application: In my conversations, classical apologetics is always utilized. So in many of the discussions between  the following topics come up:

  1. How do you explain the Origin of the Universe?
  2. How do you explain the Mathematical Fine-Tuning of the Universe?
  3. How do you explain the Terrestrial Fine-Tuning of Planet Earth?
  4. How do you explain the Biological Fine-Tuning of Complex Life on Earth?
  5. How do you explain the Informational Fine-Tuning of the DNA molecule?
  6. How do you explain the Origin of Mathematical Laws?
  7. How do you explain the Origin of Logical Laws?
  8. How do you explain the Origin of Physical/Natural Laws?
  9. How do you explain the Origin of the First Cell?
  10. How do you explain the Origin of Human Reason?
  11. How do you explain the Origin of Human Consciousness?
  12. How do you explain the Origin of Objective Morality?
  13. How do you explain Ultimate Meaning in Life?
  14. How do you explain Ultimate Value in Life?
  15. How do you explain Ultimate
    Purpose
     in Life?

In regards to these questions, any attempt by theists to give scientific data (a peer reviewed document or book) is cast off as a “God of the Gaps” argument. Granted, I think we have provided answers to the “God of the Gaps” charge. And in return, the atheist just punts to a “nature and chance of the gaps” argument. In other words, whatever God explanation is given, some atheists assume that science (which is not a search for natural/material causes alone) will be able to show that eventually we will arrive at naturalistic explanation.

Historical /Evidential Apologetics

Historical Apologetics does have some things in common with classical apologetics in that they begin with evidence to demonstrate the truth of Christianity. Both the classical and historical apologist see historical evidence to be crucial to the defense of Christianity. However, the historical apologist doesn’t see the need for theistic apologetics (starting with evidence for God outside the Bible) as prior to historical apologetics. The classical apologist believes it begs the question to discuss the resurrection as an act of God unless one had first established that a God exists who can intervene into the world. The historical apologist argues that one can show that God exists by demonstrating from the historical evidence alone that an act of God occurred, as in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the supreme apologetic.

When looking at the New Testament, the approach of historical apologetics is to start with the historicity of the New Testament documents and then to use the miracles of Christ, particularly the resurrection, to point to the fact that Christ is the Son of God. This approach shows that there is a theistic God exists who can work miracles. Historical apologetics generally begins by attempting to show the historicity of the New Testament documents by using the following syllogism:

1. The New Testament documents are historically reliable evidence.
2. The historical evidence of the New Testament shows that Jesus is God incarnate. This claim to divinity was proven by a unique combination of His miracles/His speaking authority, His actions, and His resurrection.
3.Therefore, there is reliable historical evidence that Jesus is God incarnate.

So we see in this syllogism that another step would be to examine the New Testament claims of Christ to be the Son of the theistic God who offers miraculous proofs for his claims. The most important part of this type of evidence is that Christ was resurrected from the dead. Once the deity of Christ is established, it can be, and often is, argued that the Bible is the Word of God, since Jesus (who is God) affirmed it to be so. Two present day historical apologists are Gary Habermas and Mike Licona who specialize in the resurrection of Jesus.

Over the years, I have had my share of discussions about what we can know about Jesus. I recently finished reading the book called The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach by New Testament historian Mike Licona. In the book Licona discusses what is called “The Historical Bedrock.” These three facts are:

1. Jesus’ death by crucifixion

2. Very Shortly after Jesus’ death, the disciples had experiences that led them to believe and proclaim that Jesus had been resurrected and had appeared to them.

3. Within a few years after Jesus death, Paul converted after a personal experience that he interpreted as a post resurrection appearance of Jesus to him.

Licona is more than aware that just because there is a list of agreed upon facts that is agreed upon by historians and Biblical scholars will not make it true. If so, that would be what is called a “consensus gentium fallacy” which is the fallacy of arguing that an idea is true because most people believe it. As Licona says, “Something doesn’t become a “fact” just because the majority of scholars believe it.” (The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, pg 279).

However, as Gary Habermas says, “Certainly one of the strongest methodological indications of historicity occurs when a case can be built on accepted data that are recognized as well established by a wide range of otherwise diverse historians.” (see Norman L. Geisler and Paul K. Hoffman, Why I Am A Christian: Leading Thinkers Explain Why They Believe (Grand Rapids, MI: BakerBooks, 2001), 152.

Historian Christopher Blake refers to this as the “very considerable part of history which is acceptable to the community of professional historians.” (See Christopher Blake, “Can History be Objective?” in Theories of History, Ed. Patrick Gardiner (New York: Macmillan, 1959), pp. 331-333; cited in Geisler and Hoffman, 152.

Habermas completed an overview of more than 1,400 critical scholarly works on the resurrection from 1975 to 2003. He studied and catalogued about 650 of the texts in English, German and French. Habermas reports that all the scholars who were from across the ideological spectrum agreed on the Historical Bedrock that Licona mentions. Therefore, the scholars and historians that Habermas researched were not all from a conservative or traditional perspective. Some of the critical scholars even included atheists, agnostics, Christians and Jews. So there was some impartiality in the study.

Bart Ehrman and The Historical Bedrock
What is interesting is Licona’s discussion of Bart Ehrman. Ehrman has become somewhat of a hero of the atheist community because of his popular works such as Misquoting Jesus, etc. I hope the atheist community knows Ehrman agrees with the Historical Bedrock.

For example:

1. Jesus died by crucifixion: Ehrman says: “One of the most certain facts of history is that Jesus was crucified on orders of the Roman prefect of Judea, Pontius Pilate” (see The New Testament: An Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, pgs, 261-262).

2. Very shortly after Jesus’ death, the disciples had experiences that led them to believe and proclaim that Jesus had been resurrected and had appeared to them: Ehrman says: “Why, then, did some of the disciples claim to see Jesus alive after his crucifixion? I don’t doubt at all that some disciples claimed this. We don’t have any of their written testimony, but Paul, writing about twenty-five years later, indicates that this is what they claimed, and I don’t think he is making it up. And he knew are least a couple of them, whom he met just three years after the event (Galatians 1:18-19).” ( see The New Testament: An Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, pgs, 282).

3. Within a few years after Jesus death, Paul converted after a personal experience that he interpreted as a post resurrection appearance of Jesus to him: Ehrman says: “There is no doubt that [Paul] believed that he saw Jesus’ real but glorified body raised from the dead.” (see see see The New Testament: An Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, pgs, 301).

Practical Application:  I generally can start with people by getting them to agree that there are at least three facts about the Historical Jesus that are held by most critical scholars and historians. I list some of those sources here. See here as well.

We can  then discuss the best explanation for the resurrection appearances. Former atheist Anthony Flew said the resurrection of Jesus was the best attested miracle claim that he had seen (see There Is A God? How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind(New York: Harper Collins, 2007). Another aspect of the historical argument  is the argument from prophecy. Fulfilled prophecy does not prove the existence of God, but it does show that events predicted in his Name that come to pass are evidence of his special activity. See more here: Is Jesus the Messiah? The Messianic Task or  here: The Argument from Miracles: A Cumulative Case  for the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.   In the end, the debate over the resurrection is always going to be about metaphysics. One approach is what it called the a priori  approach while the other is called the a posteriori approachDeductive reasoning is called a priori (prior to looking at the facts) and inductive reasoning is called a posteriori (after seeing the evidence). If one has decided that many of the events in the New Testament are not possible (because of an a priori commitment to naturalism), it will impact how they interpret the evidence (after examining it). Some scholars may say they are open to taking an posteriori approach to the resurrection, when it comes time to actually examine the evidence. However, in many cases, they set the bar so high that no amount of evidence will ever convince them. So in many cases, if one is just utterly convinced that the natural world is all there is than we are back to natural theology and whether naturalism can explain reality better than theism.

Also, one reason historical apologetics will always come up is because even if someone does believe in some sort of Intelligence or Designer  in nature, they will eventually have to look into history to get a fuller picture of God and his plans for humanity. Another popular level book on evidential apologetics is James Warner Wallace’s Cold Case Christianity. 

You can see him lecture here:

Presuppositional Apologetics

Another approach to apologetic methodology is called the presuppositional approach. This approach starts by assuming Christian truth about God and Jesus as revealed in Scripture and reasons from Christianity. The presuppositional apologetic to the unbeliever begins with reasoning “from” Christianity through special revelation (Bible). The presuppositionalist assumes the content revealed in Scripture to be true and encourages the unbeliever to do the same since these assumed biblical truths offer only possible foundation and explanation for life and godliness- a framework on which to make of the world and God the way they actually exist. Due to the noetic effects of sin (sin on the mind), the unbelievers presuppositions are deemed irrational and inadequate to understand or explain the basis for religion, morals, communication and beauty. In some instances presuppositionalists test consistency by using the laws of logic. The goal is to demonstrate in any of several ways, that only biblical presuppositions provide the tools for one to make sense of reality and show that Christianity offers the only foundation and framework on which on which to make sense of the world and God.

The apostle Paul says that God’s existence and attributes can be “clearly seen” (Romans 1:18-20) since they have been “shown” to the unbelieving world through “the things that are made” (nature). Therefore, the unbelievers problem is not one of not understanding the truth of God, but of suppression, which leads to not receiving the truth.

As former atheist J. Budziszewski says:

” I am not at present concerned to explore Paul’s general claim that those who deny the Creator are wicked but only his more particular claim that they are intellectually dishonest. Notice that he does not criticize nonbelievers because they do not know about God but ought to. Rather, he criticizes them because they do know about God but pretend to themselves that they don’t. According to his account, we are not ignorant of God’s reality at all. Rather, we “suppress” it; to translate differently, we “hold it down.” With all our strength we try not to know it, even though we can’t help knowing it; with one part of our minds we do know it, while with another we say, “I know no such thing.” From the biblical point of view, then, the reason it is so difficult to argue with an atheist—as I once was—is that he is not being honest with himself. He knows there is a God, but he tells himself that he doesn’t. How can a person explain how he reached new first principles? By what route could he have arrived at them? To what deeper considerations could he have appealed? If the biblical account is true, then it would seem that no one really arrives at new first principles; a person only seems to arrive at them. The atheist does not lack true first principles; they are in his knowledge already, though suppressed. The convert from atheism did not acquire them; rather, things he knew all along were unearthed.”

Presuppositional apologetics differs from classical apologetics in that presuppositional apologetics rejects the validity of traditional proofs for the existence of God. Also, the presuppositional apologist differs with both classical and historical apologetics in its use of historical evidence. The presuppositionalist insists that one must begin with presuppositions or worldviews. The historical apologist believes that the historical facts “speak for themselves.” They are “self-interpreting” in their historical context. The pure presuppositionalist, on the other hand, insists that no facts are self-interpreting, that all facts are interpreted and can be properly understood only within the context of an overall worldview.

One well known presuppositionalist was the late Cornelius Van Till. Van Till answered the objection that the presuppositionalist method is circular by claiming that every system of though is circular. For example, a rationalist can defend the authority of reason only by using reason. Also, the Christian worldview is the only one that renders reality intelligible in its own terms. To read more about Van Till, click here.

Depending on how one is defined, there are three or four basic kinds of presuppositionalism: (1) revelational presuppositionalism (2) rational presuppositionalism and (3) systematic consistency. Some view Francis Schaeffer’s apologetic as an example of a fourth variation that might be called practical presuppositionalism. Each approach differs in the way in which a worldview is judged for truth.

Practical Application: I can’t say I have utilized a ton of presuppositonal apologetics. I do agree with the Romans 1 text that people do suppress truth. But it can be a challenge to start with the Bible with people.

Cumulative Case Apologetics

Advocates:
1. Paul Feinberg
2. C.S. Lewis
3. C. Stephen Evans
4. Basil Mitchell
5. Richard Swinburne

Advocates of the “cumulative case” method say the nature of the case for Christianity is not in any strict sense a formal argument from probability. In the words of Basil Mitchell, the cumulative case method does “not conform to the ordinary pattern of deductive or inductive reasoning.” The case is more like the brief that a lawyer makes in a court of law or that a literary critic makes for a particular interpretation of a book. The cumulative case method is an informal argument that pieces together several lines or types of data into a sort of hypothesis or theory that comprehensively explains that data and does so better that any alternative hypothesis. Paul Feinberg says that “Christian theists are urging that [Christianity] makes better sense of all the evidence available than does any other alternative worldview, whether that alternative is some other theistic view or atheism.” The data that the cumulative case seeks to explain include the existence and nature of the cosmos, the reality of religious experience, the objectivity of morality, and other certain historical facts, such as the resurrection of Jesus.

C.S. Lewis said that “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” ( The Weight of Glory, “Is Theology Poetry?” (1944), para. 24, p. 92). To apply what Lewis says, we can utilize what is called inference to the best explanation. The inference to the best explanation model takes into account the best available explanation in our whole range of experience and reflection. Another example of this approach is seen in a book like A Meaningful World: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the  Genius of Nature by Benjamin Wiker and Jonathan Witt.

Also, using God as an explanatory explanation is seen in philosophical theology or natural theology arguments. The book The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology does a fine job in handling this issue.

To see a short example of this approach online see,  The Return of the God Hypothesis  by Stephen C. Meyer or Paul Copan’s God: The Best Explanation

Practical Application: I do like this approach. When talking to people, you can find common ground in that all humans observe the same things. Thus, they are both seeing many of the same features of reality. The question becomes is the most adequate explanation for what these features of reality.  Frank Turek has taken this approach in his latest book called Stealing from God.

One More Thing: The Issue of Evidence

Lionel Ruby in his text, Logic: An Introduction says:

“Every person who is interested in logical thinking accepts what we shall call the “law of rationality,” which may be stated as follows: We ought to justify our conclusions by adequate evidence…. By “adequate evidence” we mean evidence which is good and sufficient in terms of the kind of proof which is required. There are occasions when we require conclusive proof, as in mathematics, and there are occasions when it is sufficient to establish the probability of a given conclusion, as in weather prediction. But in all cases the evidence must be adequate to its purpose.” (1960, p. 131, emp. added).

I have been told by some atheists that they just want sufficient evidence. But they just can’t get there. But in reality, this really translates as what Ruby just stated as “conclusive proof” as in mathematics and logic. While the atheist waits for the “conclusive proof,” they are allowed to live a life in complete autonomy from God.

Also, remember the advice of the late Ronald Nash about the issue of proofs. As Nash said:

“What tends to be forgotten is the subjective nature of proof. First, proofs are person-relative. In other words, proofs are relative, which is simply to admit the obvious, namely, that the same argument may function as a proof for one person and result in little more than contempt for someone else. Second, proofs are relative to individual persons. A person’s response to an argument will always reflect varying features such as their past and present personal history. Proofs also may be relative to persons in particular circumstances. Therefore, proofs must pass tests that are not only logical but also psychological. No argument can become a proof for some person until it persuades a person.”

Atheists may say they left the faith for intellectual or evidential reasons. However,  my experience shows me there are always emotional or volitional issues involved in the process. In approaching the God question, is it true that all of us are completely objective? Not a chance.

Sources:

1. House, H.W, and J. Holden, Charts of Apologetics and Christian Evidences. Baker Publishing Group. Grand Rapids, 2007.
2. Geisler, N.L. BECA. Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, 2007, pgs, 41, 154, 316, 607.
3. Cowan,S. editor, Five Views of Apologetics, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishers, 1999.

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