Reflections on Asking the “Does God Exist” question on a major college campus

This past year because of Covid, many campus ministries have not been able to do any ministry on their campus. We were fortunate to be able to do our outreach and apologetics ministry this Past Fall and this Spring at The Ohio State University. Just as we finished the month of April, we spoke to nearly 130 people about the God question. Between Fall of last year and this Spring, we have seen over 50 people make first time commitments to the Lord! God is at work!  I look back on all the years there and I can say this was the year that we saw more openness to the God question than any previous year.

One of the questions we used this year is the “Does God Exist?” question.

May be an image of 1 person, standing, tree and outdoors


When people say “Yes” to whether God exists, the two main reasons they think God exists are religious experience and creation. In other words, when students look at the world around them, they don’t think what they observe can be the result of unguided natural processes or  the result of chance/coincidence.

 But allow me to elaborate on those students that are somewhat atheistic or agnostic about the God question. Granted, these reflections are the result of doing this several years.

1. Students don’t know how to think about God 

How do we know God exists?  Over the years, when I have been asked this question, I used to just jump to an argument for God. I would sit down and try to explain it in detail to the individual. I have now decided to take a different approach and back up: I am convinced more than ever that the first question in the discussion is “How should we approach the existence of God?” or, ” What method should we use?” I find 90% of the people I talk to have never taken the time to think about this question. Granted, it is not as if churches or the local university (unless it is a philosophy of religion class) teaches on a topic such as this.

Now I know that when  you ask a Christian, Jewish person, Muslim, or Mormon as well how they know what they believe is true, they might just say, “I have faith.” This should cause us to stop and ask if that is an adequate answer. It probably won’t go very far in a skeptical and pluralistic culture. To see more on this, see our post called The Most Common Objection on a College Campus. 
Or, see Seven Approaches to God’s Existence 

In this case, students define truth as what is practical, or what ‘works.’ It is no secret that many apologists have written books on the truth question. In other words, the statement “we are living in postmodern times” has almost become cliche in today’s society. Hence, because of the impact of post-modernism, many seem to assume that college students are not interested in objective truth. So the fallout is that people are not asking whether Christianity is true.  See our post called  Do College Students Care About Truth?

3. Students don’t have all the information

This is what bothers me the most. When I say they don’t have all the information, I am not saying anyone needs to have an exhaustive background in history, philosophy, theology, science, or other subjects to find a relationship with God. When I have shown students there are resources on the existence of God, they look bewildered. After all, they aren’t hearing or getting this information on the campus. Or, if they were raised in a church and now they are agnostic, they sometimes say “I never heard any of this in the church I grew up in!” So for some of them, it is almost a settled issue that there is no God. Any resource or evidence showing the opposite can tend to be met with resistance. See our reading list here: 

4.  Bad epistemology 

This is a huge issue. Granted, many students don’t have a background in this area.

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy concerned with questions about knowledge and belief and related issues such as justification, truth, types of certainty.

I have lost count of the number of times that I have encountered the following comments by students:

“There is not one shred of proof or evidence for the existence of God”

“There is absolutely no evidence for Jesus or your God”

“Science has shown that there is no God”

“Unless you can perfectly demonstrate that God exists or Jesus is the Son of God, you need to admit all you have is faith”

It is statements like the ones here that demonstrate to me that there is not even a basic understanding of epistemology. Keep in mind that I am not asking everyone to get a philosophy degree and to be an expert on such a heady topic. While in seminary I was blessed to take some classes in philosophy. However, I am by no means an expert! But the people making these types of claims just overstate their case and sound very naive. A more nuanced approach would be to say, “ I have looked at the evidence in this area and I don’t find it to be sufficient.” Or, “I don’t think there are good reasons to think God exists or that Jesus is the Son of God.”

There is a new book out that mentions something of great relevance. The author says the following:

“Why do we believe some things but not others? For example, once upon a time, we believed that the earth was flat. But now we believe it’s round. Yet most of us have not been in a spaceship orbiting the earth to see for ourselves that the earth is round. Yet we believe that it is. What is the mechanism for our belief? Why do we believe some things and not others? This field of study is called epistemology. But when we apply it to religious beliefs—why do some people believe in the existence of God, but others don’t?—it is called religious epistemology.”-Evangelism in a Skeptical World: How to Make the Unbelievable News about Jesus More Believable by Sam Chan and D. A. Carson

If you are not familiar  with religious epistemology, see our clip here. 

 5. The Issue of Certainty

There is some overlap here between this issue and what I just mentioned about bad epistemology.  I don’t have any need for absolute or exhaustive knowledge. As Paul Copan says here:

“We do not need 100 percent certainty to truly know. After all, we cannot show with 100 percent certainty that our knowledge must have 100 percent certainty. We believe lots of things with confidence even though we do not have absolute certainty. In fact, if most people followed the “100 percent rule” for knowledge, we would know precious little. But no one really believes that.

Now, if our only options were either 100 percent certainty orskepticism, then we would not be able to differentiate between views that are highly plausible, on the one hand, and completely ridiculous, on the other. They would both fall short of the 100 percent certainty standard and so both should be readily dismissed. But that is clearly silly. We know the difference. And what about those who seem to know with 100 percent certainty that we cannot know with 100 percent certainty. Interestingly, skeptics about knowledge typically seem quite convinced — absolutely convinced — that we cannot know.”- see the entire article here:

A similar approach to this issue is seen in Mortimer J. Adler’s Six Great Ideas where he has a chapter called The Realm of Doubt. The problem we meet is when we attempt to decide which of our judgments belong in the realm of certitude. In order for a judgment to belong in the realm of certitude, it must meet the following criteria: (1) it cannot be challenged by the consideration of new evidence that results from improved observation, nor can it be criticized by improved reasoning or the detection of inadequacies or errors in the reasoning we have done. Beyond such challenge or criticism, such judgments are indubitable, or beyond doubt.

A judgment is subject to doubt if there is any possibility at all (1) of its being challenged in the light of additional or more acute observations or (2) of its being criticized by more cogent or more comprehensive reasoning.

The point is that in order to believe in God demands will never be based on absolute certainty.

6. Students don’t know Knowledge of God is Inferential 

Abduction can operate when people on both sides of an argument agree on what needs to be explained (certain features of reality) but they disagree on why this feature of reality exists. For example, here are some of the common questions that come up.  

  • How do you explain the Origin of the Universe?
  • How do you explain the Mathematical Fine-Tuning of the Universe?
  • How do you explain the Terrestrial Fine-Tuning of Planet Earth?
  • How do you explain the Informational Fine-Tuning of the DNA molecule?
  • How do you explain the Origin of Mathematical Laws?
  • How do you explain the Origin of Logical Laws?
  • How do you explain the Origin of Physical/Natural Laws?
  • How do you explain the Origin of the First Cell?
  • How do you explain the Origin of Human Reason?
  • How do you explain the Origin of Human Consciousness?
  • How do you explain the Origin of Objective Morality?
  • How do you explain Ultimate Meaning in Life?
  • How do you explain Ultimate Value in Life?
  • How do you explain Ultimate Purpose in Life?

Why does this feature of reality exist? Is it the result of nature itself or something outside nature? An inference is an idea or conclusion that’s drawn from evidence and reasoning or an inference can be an educated guess. But also remember that inferences can be based on observation and background knowledge.  Remember, when we look at the questions above, if you are committed to philosophical naturalism (the idea that nothing exists outside the natural realm of the material universe), you’ll find a way to interpret every piece of data to confirm your naturalistic presuppositions, even if the best inference from evidence points to something else. Of course, nobody directly knows past historical events. Much of it is inferential as well.

Conclusion

Campus ministry isn’t easy. But Jesus calls us to be salt and light in the dark places. We also don’t always get to resist the places where the soil is hard. See our booklet as well.

Does God Exist? Why It Matters by [Eric Chabot, Chris Van Allsburg]
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Did Moses Really Write About Jesus? A Look at Messianic Prophecy in the Torah

Introduction

Anyone who has studied evidential apologetics will see that many apologists have laid a great emphasis on messianic prophecy as one of the keys to demonstrating Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. One thing that is left out of these discussions is that when it comes to prophecy, it is not always predictive. The Greek word for fulfill is πληρόω (pleroo) – which has a much broader usage than “the prediction of an event.” But in this case, on more than one occasion, Jesus appealed to the fact that Moses wrote about him in the Torah. I will not take the time to argue for Mosaic authorship  in this post. That is dealt with elsewhere. Anyway, let’s look at where Jesus discusses this issue:

 How can you believe? While accepting glory from one another, you don’t seek the glory that comes from the only God.  Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom you have set your hope.  For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, because he wrote about Me. But if you don’t believe his writings, how will you believe My words?”- John 5: 44-47

So can Jesus be found in the Torah? Jesus doesn’t list any specific texts here. First, we need to remember that there were other names that 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.

The First Messianic Promise

It is after the fall of man has taken place that God makes the first messianic promise:

“God said ‘And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Gen. 3:15)

The messianic interpretation of Gen 3:15 is recorded in the Palestinian Targum, (first century C.E.)

“And I will put enmity  between thee and the woman, and between the seed of your offspring and the seed of her offspring; and it shall be that when the offspring of the woman keep the commandments of the Law, they will aim right [at you] and they will smite you on the head; but when they abandon the commandments of the Law, you will aim right [at them], and you will wound them in the heel. However, for them there will be remedy but for you there will be none, and in the future they will make peace with the heel of the king, Messiah.” [1]

I should also note that Dr. Alfred Edersheim in his classic work, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (appendix 9) mentions that additional rabbinic opinions support the understanding that Genesis 3:15 refers to the Messiah. The point is that we see what is called the “the Proto-evangelium” or the beginning of salvation history.  God was planning on doing something for the entire world.

Genesis 12:1-3:

 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and pin you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

A good study of the Abrahamic Covenant shows the Messianic blessing for all the world. Hence, all peoples on all the earth – 70 nations at the time – would be beneficiaries of the promise (Gen. 12:2–3; cf. 22:18; 26:4; 28:14). The Abrahamic promise of blessing of the nations is repeated in Ps. 72:17; Isa.19:24-25; Jer. 4:2; Zech 8:13.

Keeping this in mind, within the book of Isaiah there are several Servant of the Lord passages. Some of the passages about the Servant of the Lord are about the nation of Israel (Is.41:8-9; 42:19; 43:10; 44:21; 45:4; 48:20), while there are other passages where the Servant of the Lord is seen as a righteous individual (Is.42:1-4;50:10; 52:13-53:12). One passage that stands out is Isaiah 49: 1-7:

“Listen to Me, O islands, And pay attention, you peoples from afar, The LORD called Me from the womb; From the body of My mother He named Me. He has made My mouth like a sharp sword, In the shadow of His hand He has concealed Me; And He has also made Me a select arrow, He has hidden Me in His quiver. He said to Me, “You are My Servant, Israel, In Whom I will show My glory.” But I said, “I have toiled in vain, I have spent My strength for nothing and vanity;Yet surely the justice due to Me is with the LORD, And My reward with My God.” And now says the LORD, who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant, To bring Jacob back to Him, so that Israel might be gathered to Him. For I am honored in the sight of the LORD, And My God is My strength, He says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Thus says the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel and its Holy One, To the despised One, To the One abhorred by the nation, To the Servant of rulers, Kings will see and arise, Princes will also bow down, Because of the LORD who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel who has chosen You.”

In this passage, the servant is called “Israel,” while this figure is also distinguished from Israel as the one who will bring the nation of Israel back to God. This figure will bring “salvation to the ends of the earth.” A study of the rabbinical literature (such as The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah by Alfred Edersheim) describes these passages as being about the Messiah. For the New Testament authors, these texts find their fulfillment in Jesus. How might Jesus be the literal fulfillment of such a passage?

As we see in the Abrahamic covenant, the purpose of Israel was not to be a blessing to herself. Therefore, through her witness, the world will either be attracted or repelled towards the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It should be no surprise that in Matthew’s opening chapter, he says,”The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham “(Matt. 1:1). The Messiah is not only of Davidic descent, but will bring fulfillment to the Abrahamic Covenant.

Also, Matthew emphasizes Jesus’ mission to help Israel fulfill it’s calling (Matt. 10:5-6;15:24), as well as Jesus’ command to bring the nations into God’s redemptive plan (Matt 28:19).

Micah spoke of a time when the nations would go to a restored temple to learn about God (4:15). Amos also spoke of all the nations coming to the God of Israel (Amos 9:12), and other prophets spoke of the inclusion of Gentiles into God’s redemptive plan (Ezek 17:23; 31:6; Dan 4:9-21). This is why just as Israel is called to be a light to the entire world, the Messiah’s mission is also to be a “light to the nations” (Isa. 49:6). Hence, while God’s plans are national (Israel), it is evidence that the nation is an instrument to bring international blessings. Therefore, Israel’s Head, the Messiah, is called to restore the nation and use the nation to bring blessings to the other nations of the earth—blessings that are spiritual and physical.

 Genesis. 49:8-12:

“Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy father’s children shall bow down before thee. Judah is a lion’s whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up? The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be. (Gen 49:8-12)-KJV: NOTE: I chose the KJV here because most other translations replace “Shiloh” שִׁילֹה with “until he comes to whom [obedience] belongs.” Please read on:

In the previous context (Gen. 49: 1-7) we see the following issues:

1. Jacob, prophesied various details as to the fortunes and fates of the descendants of these men.

2. God is revealing to Jacob the future history of his descendants.

3. The older brothers are disqualified from the birth-right (i.e., Reuben, Simon, Levi).

4. Jacob foretold a future for the tribe of Judah that pictures him as the preeminent son – the prominent tribe.

5. Judah: is the name of the son of Jacob/or the name of the southern kingdom of the divided nation of Israel.

 A Closer Look at the word “Scepter” and “Shiloh”

The precise meaning of “Shiloh” is challenging.  It is either a reference to a place, as it is elsewhere in the Old Testament (e.g. Joshua 18:1,8,9; 19;51; I Samuel 1:13, etc.), or, it may refer to a proper name for the Messiah. This is seen in the Talmud in Sanhedrian 98b which answers the question of what the Messiah’s name is by saying, “Shiloh is his name, as it is said, “Until Shiloh Come.” In Judaism, Names describe the nature of the Messiah’s mission.   The challenge is seen in that Shiloh can be rendered in six ways: (1) “until he come to Shiloh,” (2) “until Shiloh comes,” (3) “until a ruler comes,” (4) “unti this ruler comes,” (5) “until to him tribute comes,” or  (6) “until he comes to whom it belongs.” (1)

The NIV may have the best translation which says NIV: “until he comes to whom it belongs.” In this case, Shiloh is taken as a possessive pronoun. This translation favors the LXX (Greek Septuagint) reading. Furthermore, in Ezekiel 21: 25-27,  Ezekiel uses the Shiloh text as part of a judgment oracle directed against Zedekiah to declare the Lord’s intention not to put a ruler on David’s throne ‘until he comes to whom it belongs.’ Since both Genesis 40:10 and Ezekiel 21:27 deal with Judah and the government or ownership of that tribe, the argument becomes quite compelling. (2)

We see in the prophecy that “Scepter” is a “symbol of kingly authority” and will remain in Judah’s hand until “Shiloh comes.” In the minds of the Jewish people, “Scepter” was linked with their right to apply and enforce the law of Moses upon the people, including the right to adjudicate capital cases and administer capital punishment. The prophecy declares that Judah will finally lose his tribal independence, and promises a supremacy over at least some of the other tribes until the advent of the Messiah.

It is also worth noting that The Dead Sea Scrolls help shed some light on this text as well: In 4Q Patriarchal Blessings, the interpretation of the Genesis text reads:

A ruler shall not depart from the tribe of Judah while Israel has dominion. There will not be cut off a king in it belonging to David. For the staff is the covenant of the kingship; the thousands of Israel are the feet, until the coming of the Messiah of Righteousness, the branch of David, for to him and his seed has been given the covenant of kingship over his people for everlasting generations. (3)

We have been discussing the temporal element of this prophecy. Remember, “Until” in vs 10 is inclusive in the sense that the dominion of the tribe of Judah would not end with Shiloh’s  coming, but would continue on after the arrival of this divine world ruler. In other words, Shiloh himself must belong to the tribe of Judah.

But there is another aspect of this prophecy that remains partially unfulfilled. Apparently, an individual from Judah’s seed came who will rule over both his own nation Israel and the “peoples” of not just Israel but the rest of the world (also see Gen 17:6; Exod. 15:16; Deut. 32:8). While the immediate context probably refers to King David, it also speaks to an eschatological ruler whom the Gentile nations will come to in submissive obedience! We should note that part of this prophecy has not been fulfilled. While there are many Gentiles who have submitted to the rule of Messiah (Jesus) in their lives, all the nations are not under the universal rule of the Messiah. Keep in mind, this doesn’t mean that Jesus is not the King right now. He most certainly is. However, there is more to come in the future.

Numbers 24:17-19:

In  Numbers 24:17-19, we see a similar theme is seen in that a ruler shall arise out of Israel and how a descendant of Jacob will have universal dominion:

I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; A star shall come forth from Jacob,  A scepter shall rise from Israel, And shall crush through the forehead of Moab,  And tear down all the sons of Sheth. “Edom shall be a possession, Seir, its enemies, also will be a possession, While Israel performs valiantly.“One from Jacob shall have dominion, And will destroy the remnant from the city.-NASB

The Messianic Interpretation of this prophecy is the following:

1. The context is about Balaam’s oracle. In vs 7 we see that there shall come forth a man who shall be Lord over many nations and his kingdom shall be exalted in Gog.

2. Balaam references two important points: First, “a star shall come from Jacob” and “a scepter comes forth from Israel.”

3. The figure is visible in the term” scepter” who is an earthly king who will use his earthly power to subdue the earth.

4. “Star” may refer to his heavenly origin. (4)

Furthermore, a text that is part of the Pseudepigrapha also has a messianic expectation that is also tied to the Numbers 24: 17 text:

 And after this there shall arise for you a Star from Jacob [Numbers 24:17] in peace. And a man shall arise from my posterity like the Sun of righteousness, walking with the sons of men in gentleness and righteousness, and in him will be found no sin. And the heavens will be opened upon him to pour out the spirit as a blessing of the Holy Father. And he will pour the spirit of grace on you. And you shall be sons in truth, and you will walk in his first and final decrees. This is the Shoot of God [Isaiah 11:1] Most High; this is the fountain for the life of all humanity. Then he will illumine the scepter of my kingdom, and from your root will arise the Shoot, and through it will arise the rod of righteousness for the nations, to judge and to save all that call on the Lord. (Testament of Judah, 24:1-6)

To read the entire article about Gen 49:8-12, see here:

Deuteronomy 18: 15-18:

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the Lord said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.” (Deuteronomy 18: 15-18).

God, through Moses, warns Israel to remain separate from the evil practices of the surrounding nations (Deut. 18:9-12) and instructs Israel how to tell the difference between a “true prophet” and a “false prophet.” After God had warned Israel about attempting to get supernatural information from bogus pagan sources ( Deut. 18:9-14 ), he announced that he would “raise up for them a prophet like Moses from among their own brothers” (v. 15). Any prophet who speaks in the name of the Lord and his words do not come true is a “false prophet.” God has not spoken through him.

Some critics like to point out that Deut. 34: 10-12 which says that “No prophet has arisen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.” Does this prophecy mean the end of prophecy had come? Certainly by the time of the final completion of the Book of Deuteronomy and the Pentateuch as a whole, there had been no prophet who had arisen in Israel like Moses. But this does not mean there is not someone who will come in the future to fulfill the prophecy. After all, if prophecy had ended than why is it in the time of Jesus many Jewish people seem to be looking for the prophet of Deut. 18:15-22? For example:

The people said, “When they heard these words, some of the crowd began to say, “This really is the Prophet!” (John 7:40)

Now when the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus performed, they began to say to one another, “This is certainly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” (John 6:14)

John the Baptist began to preach, he was asked, “Are you the Prophet?” (John 1:19-23).

Here, we can notice the emphasis, “And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.” The prophet only respeaks the words of God (cf. Jer 1:9: Isa. 59: 21). God said to Moses “Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak” (Exod. 4:12).

We see  in the context of Numbers 16, Moses faced his opposition in that they challenged his headship and authority.  Hence, they challenge the idea that Moses has a special mission and that he was sent  from God.  In response, Moses  defends his mission in that he has never “acted on his own,” i.e., claiming for himself an authority which he did not have.  Moses says, ” Hereby you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord”  (Num.16:28).

As far as Jesus being like Moses, we see a similar pattern in that Jesus doesn’t claim to speak or act on his own authority:

 So Jesus answered them and said, My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me. If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself. He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who is seeking the glory of the One who sent Him, He is true, and there is no unrighteousness in Him”  (John 7: 16-18)

So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught meAnd he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.”

I have many things to speak and to judge concerning you, but He who sent Me is true; and the things which I heard from Him, these I speak to the world. (John 8:26)

For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak. I know that His commandment is eternal life;therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me” (John 12: 49-50).

Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works (John 14:10).

Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me (John 14:24).

For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me (John 17:8).

To summarize, when Jesus speaks, it is not His own word that he gives to the people, but that of the Father; it is as if God is speaking to us.  Also, there is a similar relationship between those who do no heed the words of Moses and those who do not listen to the words of Jesus. For example, Moses exhorts and warns the people about the consequences of not heeding the Word of God:

“ See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.  But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live,  loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.” (Deut 30: 15-20).

Of course, one of the underlying themes of John’s Gospel is that Jesus is the Word (John 1:14). Likewise, Jesus, who is the Word incarnate and the new Moses gives a similar warning:

 ”The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life (John 5: 22-24).”

Signs and Miracles

While actions by other prophets such as Ezekiel and Jeremiah etc. show some significant parallels to Jesus, Jesus is closer to the actions of the Jewish sign prophetssuch as Moses. “Signs” have a specific apologetic function in that they are used to provide evidence for people to believe the message of God through a prophet of God. Hence, the signs Moses does proves he is truly sent from God.  Moses had struggled with his prophetic call when he said “ But they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say ‘The Lord did not appear to you.’ (Exod. 4:1). God assures Moses that  the “signs”  will confirm his call:

God says, “I will be with you. And this will be אוֹת “the sign”to you that it is I who have sent you” (Exod. 3:12).

”If they will not believe you,” God said, “or listen to the first sign, they may believe the latter sign. If they will not believe even thesetwo signs or listen to your voice, you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground, and the water that you shall take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground.” (Exod 4: 8-9).

We see the signs are used to help people believe.

Moses “performed the “signs” before the people, and they believed; … they bowed down and worshiped” (Exod. 4:30–31)

The Works of Jesus

“Works” are directly related to the miracles of Jesus (Jn. 5:20; 36;10:25; 32-28; 14:10-12; 15:24) and is synonymous with “signs.” Interestingly enough, when Jesus speaks of miracles and he calls them “works” he doesn’t refer to  Exod. 4:1-9, but to Num. 16:28, “Hereby you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord.” For example:

Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The worksthat I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me” (John 10:25).

If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me;  but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” (John 10:37-38).

But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very worksthat I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me (John 5: 36)

“Sign”(sēmeion) is used seventy-seven times (forty-eight times in the Gospels). As far as the “signs’ Jesus does,  29:18-19; 35:5-6; 42:18; 61:1). In John’s Gospel, Jesus performs three “signs,” at the beginning of his ministry; the water turned into wine at Cana at Galilee (2:1-12), the healing of the son of the royal official at Capernaum (4:46-64), and catching of the fish in the sea of Galilee (21:1-14). The link between the first two signs in Jn 2:12 while the link between the last two are seen in Jn 7:1, 3-4, 6, 9. Jesus follows the pattern of Moses in that he reveals himself as the new Moses because Moses also had to perform three “signs” so that he could be recognized by his brothers as truly being sent by God (Exod 4: 1-9)

To see the entire article, see here:

Conclusion

There are many other places in the Torah that point to the life and ministry of Jesus. For now, I hope these texts can spark some interest in  further study.

Sources

1. Herbert W. Bateman IV, Darell L. Bock, and Gordan H. Johnston, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing The Promises, Expectations, And Coming of Israel’s King ( Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2012), 46.

2. Ibid, 49-51.

3. Various translations of 4QPBless are found in Millar Burrows, More Light on the Dead Sea Scrolls (New York: Viking, 1958), 401; Geza Vermes, Scripture and Tradition (Leiden: Brill, 1961), 53; cited in Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 18-50 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995), 660

4. John Metzger, Discovering the Mystery of the Unity, 385-386

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Some Signs You May Be Ashamed of the Gospel

Golgotha

 

We are living in a day of religious pluralism and theological illiteracy. On a very general level, many Christians have been told they need to share the Gospel with people. But why? What is it that motivates you to even engage the culture for the Christian faith? Or maybe you just don’t engage it all. Overseas, Christians are being persecuted and killed for their beliefs. So don’t take it for granted that we have the freedom to share what we believe with others.

1. The Starting Point

If you don’t agree with the following syllogism, it makes it hard to want to share your faith: 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 His miracles/His speaking authority, His actions, and His resurrection. 3. Therefore, there is reliable historical evidence that Jesus is God incarnate.

So if this syllogism is correct, it leads to the next syllogism:

The Command to Make Disciples: Matt 28:19

1. Whatever Jesus teaches is true. 2. Jesus taught that we are to “Go and make disciples of the nations” (Matt 28:19). 3. Therefore, Christians should desire to “Go and make disciples of the nations” (Matt 28:19).

This command does not mean we need to be sent to some far distant land to preach the Gospel. The command applies to every Christian no matter where they are located. God uses us wherever we are.

It is true that much of the Church has focused on the “go” part of this command. But we need to remember that The Great Commission is accomplished while we “go” about living our daily lives.

The context of Matt 28:19 is that in fulfillment of the Great Commission, we are to make disciples. We are to baptize new believers and we are to teach them. Unless there has been teaching and instruction about the commands of Jesus, there has not been any discipleship. So it is clear that people can’t enter into the process of discipleship without hearing about the Gospel.

Romans 1:16

“For  I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is  the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew  first and also to  the Greek. For in it  the righteousness of God is revealed  from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (ESV)

Grammatically, the entire verse is in the present tense. There are three verbs: unashamedis and believes. All are in the present tense. So Paul was not ashamed of the Gospel. He knew it was for the Jew and the Greek. He also knew the power of God was demonstrated in the message.

But now we need to ask ourselves whether we can make an application of this text. Do we as Christians actually believe the Gospel is Good News and are we ashamed or unashamed of the Gospel? Are there some visible signs as to whether we are ashamed or unashamed of the Gospel? Here are some signs that we might be ashamed of the Gospel. Please note the goal of this post is not meant to induce false guilt or condemnation.

#1: We are ashamed of the Gospel because we are worried about offending people

One time I was a class on evangelism. One student said that one of the people they witnessed to were offended by the message. My response is the same as always: The Gospel is offensive. Paul commented about the challenge of proclaiming a dying Messiah to his fellow countrymen:

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” (1 Cor.1:21-22)

To summarize “The Kerygma” of the early Christian community:

1. The promises by God made in the Hebrew Bible/The Old Testament have now been revealed with the coming of Jesus the Messiah (Acts 2:30;3;19;24,10:43; 26:6-7;22).

2. Jesus was anointed by God at his baptism (Acts 10:38).

3. Jesus began his ministry at Galilee after his baptism (Acts 10:37).

4.Jesus conducted a beneficent ministry, doing good and performing mighty works by the power of God ( Acts 2:22; 10:38).

5. The Messiah was crucified according to the plan of God (Acts 2:23).

6. He was raised from the dead and appeared to his disciples (Acts 2:24; 31-32; 3:15-26;10:40-41;17:31;26:23).

7. Jesus was exalted and given the name “Lord” (Acts 2:25-29;33-36;3:13;10:36).

8. He gave the Holy Spirit to form the new community of God (Acts 1:8;2;14-18;33,38-39;10:44-47).

9. He will come again for judgment and the restoration of all things (Acts 3:20-21;10:42; 17:31).

10. All who hear the message should repent and be baptized because of the finished work of Jesus (Acts 2:21;38;3:19;10:43, 17-48; 17:30, 26:20).

You could always make people less offended and preach a false Gospel such as “Jesus will meet all your needs.” In other words, Jesus is a buddy. But if you do this, you will have to answer to God for giving people the false Gospel. So always remember the power is in the message. And it will offend because the Holy Spirit does convict people of the truthfulness of the message.

#2: We are ashamed of the Gospel because we are a man-pleaser rather than a God pleaser

This happens to all of us. In a day of political correctness, Christians are more worried about what their peers think than what God thinks. In the end, we will answer to God with what we did with the Gospel. We are stewards of the message.

#3: We are ashamed of the Gospel because we are afraid we can’t answer objections

In this case, that’s why we have apologetics. There are plenty of resources that can help the Christian to be confident in what they believe.

#4: We are ashamed of the Gospel because we don’t take the Lordship of Jesus seriously

This is a hot topic. As far as Lordship, I think the new believer needs to know about this early on. To make Jesus as Lord of one’s life is a lifelong process. It is a call to daily surrender. We are called to yield our time, bodies, goals and gifts to His Lordship. Is it easy? No, not at all. I struggle with this quite a bit. But we do have a Helper to give us the grace to do it (hint: study the ministry of the Holy Spirit). So in other words, we say ‘”Lord Jesus, have your way with me. I am relying on the work of the Holy Spirit to yield myself to you on a daily basis.”

There is no doubt that in a world that wants instant results, self- sacrifice is a tough sell. Part of the problem is that churches preach a Gospel that promises that Jesus will fix all our problems. And when things get tough, many people walk away. A long-term commitment to our Lord, which involves self-denial (Luke 9:23) is hard to swallow for those that have been told The American Dream is the way of happiness.

#5: We are ashamed of the Gospel because we don’t really believe the Gospel is true

In this case, perhaps we need to preach the Gospel to ourselves on a daily basis. Do we really believe it is Good News?

#6: We are ashamed of the Gospel because we don’t even know what the Gospel actually is!

You may say this is impossible. But there has been a slew of books questioning “What is the Gospel?” I have written elsewhere that the Gospel is presented in a variety of contexts.

Those are some of the checkpoints I have come up with. Feel free to think of some more.

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“If Nature Made You, What Made Nature?”

Over the years, I have had my share of discussions about the God question with college students which include both atheists and skeptics Any attempt to point to God as an explanation for observable phenomena such as anticipatory, irreducible or specified complexity can invoke the atheist or naturalist to cry “foul play.” When I press them further about the origins question, I mention the following from author Bruce Sheiman in his book An Atheist Defends Religion: Why Humanity Is Better Off With Religion Than Without.  He says the general atheist scenario is the following:

Human Life = Laws of physics X chance + randomness+ accidents+luck X 3.5 billion yrs. In other words, the laws of physics for our present universe arose by chance (from a multitude of possible universes); the first forms of life developed by chance (arising by primordial soup combinations that resulted from the laws of physics plus accidents); the first concept of life developed purely by chance (genetic mutations and environmental occurrences).

Sadly, many students do concede that Sheiman’s scenario makes perfect sense. My next question to them is “If nature made you, what made nature?” In many cases, they never been asked this? Why do I ask them this?

First of all, in his book Who Made God: Searching For A Theory Of Everything? Edgar Andrews has given us some things to ponder here:

  1. It is important to understand that science can explain nothing except in terms of the laws of nature. Science works by first discovering (by observation) laws that describe the workings of nature and then using this knowledge to seek out further explanations — beginning with hypotheses and then confirming these hypotheses by various tests, the chief of which must always be repeatable experimental verification. To offer a scientific explanation of anything one must always appeal to existing laws (or at very least plausible hypotheses). No laws, no science; it’s as simple as that.
  2. To explain the origin of the universe scientifically, therefore, requires an appeal to laws of nature (established or hypothesized) that pre-existed the universe. But laws of nature are nothing more than descriptions of the way nature operates. No one has ever proposed a law of nature that does not involve existing natural entities, whether they be matter, energy, space-time or mathematical systems. (Note that mathematics are arguably philosophical rather than scientific in character and are only scientifically relevant when applied to natural realities — that is, the world as it exists).
  3. This creates a dilemma; the laws of nature cannot exist without nature itself existing but the origin of nature cannot be explained scientifically without pre-existing laws. The logical conclusion is that science cannot, by its very nature, explain the origin of the universe.
  4. The only alternative is that the laws of nature did pre-exist the universe but existed as a kind of blueprint in some non-material medium such as the “mind of God”.

Let me add a few of my own points here:

When we observe the effects in the world, we can infer there are two kinds of causes—natural and intelligent. In other words, there are really two general kinds of explanations for events: intentional accounts (which demonstrate signs of value, design, and purpose) and non-intentional accounts (which lack values, design, and purpose). (1)

For example, both Richard Dawkins and Francis Crick (who are staunch atheists) both admit that while the world shows every indication it is designed and have purpose, they add one qualification; it only looks that way. In other words, while the design is evident, it can be explained without resorting to any Designer. Since Crick and Dawkins (as well as other atheists) only accept natural causes, this means the phenomena we observe can be explained mostly by chance and randomness. So even if the world shows intentional causation, the design can be explained without saying there is a Designer.

We must not forget that natural laws (gravitation, magnetism, etc) do nothing and set nothing into motion. So when someone such as Richard Dawkins and other atheists appeal to “the blind forces of nature” as being able to explain all the observable complexity (such as anticipatory, irreducible and specified complexity), this makes no sense.

Second, it is true that a law of gravity, or the strong and weak nuclear forces don’t have minds or are conscious. However, while they may be blind, what Dawkins and others forget is that these laws are mechanisms. They are not agents. As Edgar has already has pointed out, there is a problem with stating these mechanisms created themselves.

We must not forget that agents have goals and plan ahead. Mind or intelligence is the only known condition that can remove the improbabilities against life’s emergence. It is hard to see how a blind, naturalistic, undirected process could anticipate the universe that is required for our life to get started on our present earth and then go on to create life from non-life as well as biological information, etc.

So we see the confusion is between mechanism and agency. If Dawkins and others could at least admit that nature is a mechanism that is used by an Agent (e.g., an Intelligent Designer), to accomplish His purposes, they would begin to make some sense. However, what we see here is that science can’t be divorced from philosophy. Metaphysical naturalism refers to the view that nature is the “whole show.” Methodological naturalism (as currently discussed and advocated by Dawkins, some atheists, etc.) is not a discovery of science. It must always be viewed as a presupposition of science as presently practiced. It is clear that modern science only accounts for secondary causation (natural causes alone without any Agency).

It seems that Rabbi Paul was on target when he said 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). Some people assert that unless the God of the Bible is a material object that can be verified with one’s five senses, He doesn’t exist. In response, it is a category fallacy to ascribe sensory qualities to God or fault him for not being visible. Since we can’t see God as a material object, one way to approach this issue is to look at the effects in the world and make rational inferences to the cause of the effect. Hence, we must look to see if God has left us any pointers that lead the way to finding Him.

My advice is to at least attempt to learn about Intelligent Design. Maybe you could read the literature? This article as well as this one are good starting points.

I will close with the following:

In a Templeton address, physicist Paul Davies (who is not a professing Christian) said “science can proceed only if the scientist adopts an essentially theological worldview.” [2]  He also said, “The burning question, he says, is threefold: Where do the laws of physics come from? Why is it that we have these laws instead of some other set? How is that we have a set of laws that drives featureless gases to life, consciousness and intelligence? These laws “seem almost contrived—fine-tuned, some commentators have claimed—so that life and consciousness may emerge.” [3] He concludes that this “contrived nature of physical existence is just too fantastic for me to take on board as simply ‘given.’

Davies goes onto say: 

“Science may explain the world, but we still have to explain science. The laws which enable the universe to come into being spontaneously seem themselves to be the product of exceedingly ingenious design. If physics is the product of design, the universe must have a purpose, and the evidence of modern physics suggests strongly to me that the purpose includes us”  (4)

Sources:

[1]. Paul Davies, Templeton Prize Address, May 1995, http://aca.mq.edu.au/PaulDavies/prize_address.htm. See also Davies’s “Where Do the Laws of Physics Come From?” (2006), http://www.ctnsstars.org/conferences/papers/Wheredothelawsofphysicscomefrom.doc.

[2]. Ibid.

[3} Charles Taliaferro, Philosophy of Religion: A Beginners Guide (Oxford: Oxford Publications, 2009), 70.

[4]. Paul Davies, Superforce (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984), 243

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Why Jesus Can’t be the Savior of the World Unless He is the Jewish Messiah

One of the most popular  articles on the JewsNews website is an article called Who exactly is the Jewish Moshiach (Messiah), and why is he so critical to the Jewish people? While Christians take the time to celebrate the Savior of the world, they tend to forget unless Jesus is the Jewish Messiah of both Israel and the nations, he can’t be the Savior of the world. In other words, they can’t be divorced from each other. As Michael Bird says:

The statement that “Jesus is the Messiah” presupposes a certain way of reading Israel’s Scriptures and assumes a certain hermeneutical approach that finds in Jesus the unifying thread and the supreme goal of Israel’s sacred literature. A messiah can only be a messiah from Israel and for Israel. The story of the Messiah can only be understood as part of the story of Israel. Paul arguably says as much to a largely Gentile audience in Rome: “For I tell you that Christ [Messiah] has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy” (Rom. 15:8–9), Michael Bird, Are You the One Who Is to Come?: The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question (Grand Rapids, Baker, 2009), 163

Anyone who has talked to people from groups like the author of this article or from groups like Jews for Judaism/anti-missionary groups will generally encounter thee kinds of objections that are mentioned in the article.

In response to this article, there is some overlap with this post and my other post called “Are There Over 300 Messianic Prophecies? After all, if we can’t even define messianic prophecy correctly and provide some tips on approaching the subject, we will never make any progress.

  1. The Messiah is not divine-he is an earthly figure “anointed” to carry out a specific task.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. The Messiah will spread the knowledge of the God of Israel to the surrounding nations (Isa.11:9; 40:5; 52:8).

 There is some overlap in these expectations and 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

Sadly, this doesn’t represent the entire scope of messianic thought. And it always lead to the “Heads, I win, tails you lose” approach.  In other words, “Jesus doesn’t fulfill any of the messianic prophecies so we have that all settled and we can move on and wait for the true Messiah to come.” As if  it is that simple.

The reality is that we have the same problem Jesus had when he was here. Hence, the Jewish expectations of the kingdom what would come would be (1) visible, (2) all at once, (3) in complete fullness, (4) when God’s enemies would be defeated  and (5) the saints are separated from the ungodly, the former receiving reward and the latter punishment. But  once again, as Beale and Gladd note in their book Hidden, But Now Revealed, the kingdom  that is revealed by Jesus is (1) for the most part invisibly, so that one must have eyes to perceive it (2) in two stages (already- and- not yet), (3), growing over an extended time from one stage to the last stage, (4) God’s opponents are not defeated immediately all together, but the invisible satanic powers are first subjugated and then at the end of time, all foes will be vanquished and judged and (5) saints are not being separated from the ungodly in the beginning stage of the kingdom, but such a separation will occur on the last day, when Jesus’ followers receive their reward and the latter punishment. This topic is also directly related to the topic of the covenants and God’s role with Israel and the nations.

I do want to say that a positive outcome of links like this one and others that discuss why Jewish people don’t believe in Jesus and the common messianic expectations is that it puts Jesus back into a Jewish context which is where he belongs. Many Christians have no context to their faith and know very little about the Jewish background on this topic.  In his book Kingdom Conspiracy,  Scot McKnight summarizes what James Dunn says about understanding the importance of Israel. He says;

“Dunn says we must begin with the story context: ‘It will have to be the context of Israel’s memory of its own monarchic past, of Jewish current experience under the kingship of others, and of the hopes of the faithful regarding God’s kingship for the future. He begins with three simple observations and then drenches those three points in a powerful display of evidence from Judaism of the various nuances at work at the time of Jesus.'”

His three simple observations are these:

(1) God was King over all the earth (Ps. 103: 19); (2) only Israel acknowledges God’s kingdom, and that means Israel’s king (when they have one) is specially related to God the King; and (3) this universal kingship of God will someday, perhaps soon, expand over the whole earth. The integral features in the big story of Israel are these:

God is King, Israel is God’s people and as such is God’s kingdom, and God’s kingdom will someday cover the globe. We can say the story has three nonnegotiables: the universal kingship of God, the covenant kingship of God with Israel, and a future universal rule. These three nonnegotiable beliefs in the Old Testament and in the shaping of Judaism’s story are rarely alone and almost never this abstract or theoretical. Instead they flow into very timely and contextualized expressions, and it is here that Dunn advances our discussion. When those three ideas were at work in real ways with real people in real contexts, they wore all sorts of attire, and Dunn lists the different ways this basic story was told in various contexts:

  1. Return from exile
  2. Hope for prosperity, healing, or paradise
  3. The renewal of the covenant
  4. Building a new temple Return of YHWH to Zion Triumph over, destruction of, and sometimes inclusion of gentiles Inheriting and expanding the land
  5. A climactic period of tribulation Cosmic disturbances leading to a new creation
  6. Defeat of Satan
  7. Final judgment
  8. Resurrection Sheol/ Hades morphing into a place of final retribution This list does not come from one Jewish source. Each of the themes has traces or footings in the Jewish Scriptures, the Old Testament. Each takes on either emphasis or de-emphasis depending on the author and circumstance. Each can be the entry through which the whole story of Israel can be told. It is not as if there are fourteen elements of the one story that we are called to tally up, making sure each gets represented in each retelling of Israel’s future”(pg 46).

Remember:  the Jewish Scriptures don’t reveal an explicit, fully disclosed, monolithic “messianic concept.”  To build on the comments stated here, Stanley Porter says:

Intertestamental and New Testament literature suggests that the expectation was all over the map. Some Jewish people did not expect a Messiah. Others thought that the Messiah would be a priestly figure, still others a royal deliverer. Some scholars interpret the evidence to suggest that at least one group of Jewish thinkers believed there would be two messiahs, one priestly and one royal. From what we know we can be certain that the New Testament did not create the idea of the Messiah. But we can also be sure that there was nothing like a commonly agreed delineation of what the Messiah would be like. The latter point means that modern-day Christians who shake their heads about why the Jewish people did not universally recognize the Messiah, considering all the fulfilled prophecy, really do not understand Old Testament literature.-Porter, The Messiah in the Old and New Testaments (McMaster New Testament Studies), 29.

Remember, 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. Therefore, to say Jesus is the Messiah is like asking whether he is the Son of Man, Prophet, Branch, etc.

To see more on this topic, see our previous post called Six Messianic Expectations and One Messsiah

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Naturalism and the Challenge for the Christian Apologist

 

Any of us who have been engaged in the apologetics endeavor knows that it can take up enormous amounts of our time. The reason for this is the fact that when it comes to Christian apologetics (which is the rational defense of the Christian faith), it really takes a multidisciplinary approach.  The one area that always creeps up into apologetics is the issue of naturalism which says that nature is the “whole show.”  In other words, there are really two general kinds of explanations for events: intentional accounts (which demonstrate signs of value, design, and purpose) and non-intentional accounts (which lack values, design, and purpose). Naturalists generally only punt to one kind of explanation- non-intentional accounts.

 

Here are a couple of definitions of naturalism:

” Naturalism has three fundamental tenets: the physical world is the sum total of reality (metaphysics); all causes are deterministic (etiology); and all knowledge comes through science (epistemology). Naturalism requires that consciousness emerged from nonconscious matter; rationality is the product of nonrational processes; personal action is the result of deterministic processes; alleged moral duties and the notion of human dignity are the outcome of valueless processes; natural beauty is the product of mindless material forces; the universe’s beginning came from nothing (being came from nonbeing); the earth’s amazing fine-tuning is the result of unguided physical processes; biological life emerged—against astonishing odds—from nonliving matter.”–A Little Book for New Philosophers: Why and How to Study Philosophy (Little Books) by Paul Copan, pg 68.

A person who does not affirm the supernatural— God, gods, ghosts, immaterial souls, spirits— is a person who affirms naturalism. For naturalists, nature is all there is. And if it is not science, then it is nonscience (i.e., nonsense). Most naturalists put stock in empirical, evidence-based ways of justifying opinions about what is real; this is exemplified by science.  Naturalists think such beliefs are more reliable and objective than those based on intuition, various kinds of revelation, sacred texts, religious authority, or reports by people claiming to have had religious experiences. – Dictionary of Christianity and Science, Copan, Tremper Longman III, Christopher L. Reese, Michael G. Strauss, General Editors, pgs 469.

In other words, please don’t ever say there is any agency or interference into the natural world by an outside cause that is non-natural. As Vern Poythress says:

 “ Methodological naturalism says roughly that modern science does conduct itself and should continue to conduct itself with the assumption that in the areas that it investigates, all the particular events and all the general patterns take place according to general laws that for practical purposes can be regarded as impersonal; and even if there are some exceptions, these are best ignored for the sake of getting on with the task of science. Methodological naturalism can be converted in some people’s minds into ontological or metaphysical naturalism, the view that there is no personal God and that the physical domain is all that there is. For philosophical and religious reasons, some people use methodological naturalism as a stepping stone toward ontological naturalism. But logically the two are distinct. Methodological naturalism more modestly proposes a practical restriction on the kind of hypotheses that scientists may consider, based partly on the pragmatic argument that the restriction will help science make progress rather than getting caught in fruitless byways. A number of people maintain that science by definition has a firm commitment to excluding the supernatural.” (see Redemming Science: A God Centered Approach, pgs 261-264).

In the world of the New Atheists, science is limited to the following range of concerns:

1. Science only is concerned with the material aspects of the natural world.
2. Science restricts itself to the secondary/natural causes and would forgo consideration of a primary cause (such as a divine/intelligent primary cause) as part of the explanatory structure.
3. Science seeks to reduce the systems observed to their component parts as a way of simplifying observation and explaining the behavior of the higher levels of organization.

Naturalism (as currently discussed and advocated by Richard Dawkins, some atheists, etc) is not a discovery of science. It must always be viewed as a presupposition of science as presently practiced. Therefore, the rules of the game have been rigged in advance.

And in the end, we see the reductionism in this method. In the reductionist model, all natural phenomena can be understood in terms of lower and more elementary levels of existence, all the way down to particle physics (consciousness reduced to biology, biology reduces to chemistry, chemistry reduces to physics, and all physics reduces to the “behavior” or elementary particles and forces. (Peters, T. and Gaymon Bennett. Bridging Science and Religion (London: SCM Press, 2002), 72-73.

Naturalism and the Historical Method

Let’s go back to the comment by Poythress:

 “Methodological naturalism can be converted in some people’s minds into ontological or metaphysical naturalism, the view that there is no personal God and that the physical domain is all that there is.”

This is seen in the discussions about the resurrection of Jesus. 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).

The reason many scholars and historians will never accept the evidence of a bodily resurrectionas a possibility is mostly due an ontological commitment to naturalism which impacts their methodology. For example, in a debate with John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar, William Lane Craig exposed Crossan’s naturalistic presuppositions. Craig asked Crossan if there was anything that would convince Crossan that Jesus rose from the dead as an historical fact.

Crossan responded by saying a person has the right to say,” I by faith believe that God has intervened in the resurrection event.” However, Crossan then goes on to say, “It’s a theological presupposition of mine that God does not operate in that way.” (see Paul Copan. Will The Real Jesus Stand Up? A Debate between William Lane Craig and John Dominic Crossan.Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books. 1998).

Conclusion

It is interesting that 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).  If someone thinks the evidence is just absolutely overwhelming that nature and natural laws (that are needed to form any naturalistic explanation)  came into existence on their own and humans are the result of nature and chance (which is not a cause), I doubt much will change their mind. Perhaps we forget that  Mind or intelligence is the only known condition that can remove the improbabilities against life’s emergence. It is hard to see how a blind, naturalistic, undirected process could anticipate the universe that is required for our life to get started on our present earth and then go on to create life from non-life as well as the genetic code, etc.  In the end, for those who have chosen to worship nature rather than the one who created the natural world,  it is time to do a good study of Romans 1. Once the exchange takes place, God gives people over to this idolatry.

Therefore, sin has damaging consequences on the knowing process. Maybe we can ponder the following comment by Alvin Plantinga:

” Our original knowledge of God and his glory is muffled and impaired; it has been replaced (by virtue of sin) by stupidity, dullness, blindness, inability to perceive God or to perceive him in his handiwork. Our knowledge of his character and his love toward us can be smothered: it can be transformed into resentful thought that God is to be feared and mistrusted; we may see him as indifferent or even malignant. In the traditional taxonomy of seven deadly sins, this is sloth. Sloth is not simple laziness, like the inclination to lie down and watch television rather than go out and get exercise you need; it is, instead, a kind of spiritual deadness, blindness, imperceptiveness, acedia, torpor, a failure to be aware of God’s presence, love, requirements.” (Warranted Christian Belief. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. 2000, 214-215).

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The Three Barriers to Belief: Tactics in Apologetic Engagement

Apologetics is the branch of Christian theology that offers reasons for believing Christianity is true. We see that throughout the Book of Acts that Luke uses words such as reason, persuade, eyewitness, witness, or defense. We also see that on many occasions that Paul reasoned with his audience on  (Acts 17:2, 17; 18:4, 19; 19:8, 9), seeking to persuade them  of the truthfulness of Jesus as the Messiah (18:4; 19:8; 26:28; 28:23).

Anyone who does apologetics needs to be aware of the three barriers to belief:

#1 Emotional Barriers: Many people have emotional issues with Christianity. Perhaps they have been hurt or  their present circumstances have hindered them from being able to trust that there really is a loving Creator. The apologist needs to be sensitive to these issues.

#2  Intellectual barriers: There are always skeptical barriers. What kind of evidence to do have for God? What about science? Miracles are not possible! There are many more intellectual objections. They have been around for a long time.

#3 Volitional barriers: In this case, the will is in the way. We  we can’t give life to the spiritually dead.  In many cases people use intellectual barriers as a smokescreen for volitional barriers.

Also,  perhaps Paul Moser is right on target in what he calls “kardiatheology” – a theology that is aimed at one’s motivational heart (including one’s will) rather than just at one’s mind or one’s emotions. In other words, God is very interested in moral transformation.

Three Components of Faith

Interestingly enough, In their book Handbook of Christian Apologetics, Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli give a summary of faith.

Kreeft and Tacelli say we must distinguish between the act of faith from the object of faith- believing from what is believed. The object of faith means all things believed. For the Christian, this means everything God has revealed in the Bible. This faith (the object, not the act) is expressed in propositions. Propositions are many, but the ultimate object of faith is one. The ultimate object of faith is not words, but God’s Words (singular), indeed-Himself.

Without a relationship with the living God, propositions are pointless, for their point is to point beyond themselves to God. But without propositions, we cannot know or tell others what God we believe in and what we believe about God.  They mention a few aspects of faith here:

1. Emotional faith: is feeling assurance or trust or confidence in a person. This includes hope (which is much stronger than a wish and peace (which is much stronger then mere calm.).

2. Intellectual faith: is belief. It is this aspect of faith that is formulated in propositions and summarized in creeds.

3. Volitional faith: is an act of the will, a commitment to obey God’s will. This faith is faithfulness, or fidelity. It manifests itself in behavior, that is, in good works.

So just as we must examine the barriers in each person, we need to explain to them the three components of faith. Both of these issues play a huge role in apologetic dicussions.

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“Is the God of the Philosophers the Same God as the God of the Bible?”

Human existence is dependent on communication. The abundance of methods to communicate attests to this. Clearly, we rely on phone calls, text messages, email, and other forms of communication daily. If there really is a creator behind the universe, it seems quite plausible that we can know very little about Him unless He communicates with His creation. If there really is a God, our knowledge of him may be obtained by both reason and faith. Natural theology is the practice of using reason to philosophically reveal the existence and nature of God. This enterprise of unaided human reason is accomplished independent of revealed theology (Scripture). Reason attains to a natural theology of God, and by this means, people can know, to a certain extent, what God is like apart from a holy book like the Bible, the Quran, or the Vedas. Natural theology is therefore a rational and philosophical enterprise which demonstrates the existence (and attributes)[1] of God. Now when I say “attributes of God” I mean the God of classical theism. In classical theism, the attributes of God are that God is: simple (not made of parts), immutable (changeless), impassible (is not affected by anything in creation), eternal (outside of time and space), omniscient (all-knowing), omnipotent (all-powerful), and good.

One criticism that has always been leveled against natural theology is that the God of the Philosophers doesn’t seem to resemble the God of the Bible. This past year, I reviewed a book called Essential Eschatology: Our Present and Future Hope by John E. Phelan Jr. In this book, he says the following:

“Whether we recognize it or not, the contemporary Western view of God was shaped powerfully by the god of the eighteenth-century rationalists. Their god was not the God of Israel, intimately involved with his people. The rationalists’ god was the “unmoved mover” of Aristotle, the divine “watchmaker” who created the world and set it on its course. This view of a remote, untouchable god was frequently combined with the predestinarian views of Calvin and his followers to produce a god that set from eternity the inexorable fate of the world. Whatever happened, then, was ultimately the will of this god, whether it was the death of young mothers of cancer, toddlers succumbing to the flu or the indiscriminate slaughter of Europe’s Jews in a war that consumed millions. The new atheists justifiably wonder, what kind of god would will such things? What divine purposes are served by such brutality, such injustice? Devotees of theodicy, the defense or justification of God, spend their time, fruitlessly in my opinion, trying to defend God of the charges against him. But in the presence of the Rwandan genocide, the mass graves of Bosnia, and raped and abused women and children everywhere, their defenses ring hollow. Christians can no longer afford to follow the god of the philosophers. Christian thinkers need to give up on their efforts to defend this god, because in truth this is not the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ but a modern, idolatrous construct. This is a god who justifies the power of the elites and renders their actions inevitable and justifiable. This is the god whose ways cannot be challenged even when they appear to be monstrous or, at least, monstrously indifferent. The god of the elites, the unmoved mover who keeps all in place as it should be, is an idol that needs to be thrown down.

The God of the Bible is a God whose will can be thwarted. His people can and frequently do disobey his laws and ignore his will. Their disobedience and violence are the reasons for the hunger, desperation, and fear in the world. Israel, so far as the prophets were concerned, had the power to obey or disobey, follow God or follow Baal. They could join God in partnership or follow their own whims and wills. In the Hebrew Scriptures, obedience and disobedience matter. Certainly God was sovereign and powerful, but not even God could force the Israelites to do his will—however much he punished them. In the Old Testament, and I dare say the New, human actions matter and have consequences. God through his prophets expresses enormous frustration with his people. Jesus expresses amazement that his disciples are so dense (see Mk 8:14-21) and weeps over the disobedience and indifference of Jerusalem (see Mt 23:37-39). What we do and do not do can frustrate the purpose of God.”

Five Proofs of the Existence of God by [Feser, Edward]

I have also nearly finished Edward Feser’s book. See Ben Shapiro’s interview with Feser here:

Towards the end of his book, he answers an objection about The God of Natural Theology. Here is the questions that is leveled at his book:

“Even if it is proved that there is a First Cause, which is omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good, and so forth, this would not by itself show that God sent prophets to ancient Israel, inspired the Bible, is a Trinity, and so forth.” Feser responds with this answer:

“This is true, but completely irrelevant. Arguments like the ones defended in this book are not claiming in the first place to establish every tenet of any particular religion, but rather merely one central tenet that is common to many of them—namely, that there is a cause of the world which is one, simple, immaterial, eternal, immutable, omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good, and so forth. If they succeed in doing that, then they show that atheism is false, and that the only remaining question is what kind of theism one ought to adopt—a purely philosophical theism, or Judaism, or Christianity, or Islam, or some other more specific brand of theism. Deciding that would require further investigation and argumentation. It would be silly to pretend that since the arguments of this book don’t answer every question about God, it follows that they don’t answer any question about God. That is like saying that special relativity theory must be false, because it doesn’t tell us whether and how living things evolved, or that quantum mechanics must be wrong, because it doesn’t answer all the questions we might have about engineering.”

Philosopher Elenore Stump has written a book called The God of the Bible and the God of the Philosophers (Aquinas Lecture).

The more I have thought about this issue, I conclude that the arguments given in natural theology will never get someone all the way to the God of the Bible. I have always said the arguments in natural theology are a first step to get someone to think outside their naturalistic or materialistic worldview. But I never say to anyone that if they want to know the moral attributes of God (i.e, justice, mercy, love, holiness, etc) they will find those from natural theology arguments. As I said,  in classical theism, the attributes of God are that God is: simple (not made of parts), immutable (changeless), impassible (is not affected by anything in creation), eternal (outside of time and space), omniscient (all-knowing), omnipotent (all-powerful), and good. These are what we call God’s metaphysical attributes. If I want to know God’s moral character, there is no choice but to go one step further by examining revealed/historical theology. The revelation of Scripture is when God acts in history and communicates to us through miracles, prophets, and a written text. Faith is a commitment of the will based upon the mind’s reasoning process of what is believed to be true. Scripture may be verified by means of historical argumentation. Therefore, biblical faith rests on being able to know something about history—at the very minimum, knowing the historical truth of the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth.

In the end, the God of natural theology or what is called “The God of the Philosophers” does come across as having the metaphysical attributes of the God of the Bible. But it isn’t meant to reveal anything more than that. So that is why we need both natural and revealed theology.

 

 

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