Christopher J. H. Wright on Why the Gospel is Good News for Both Israel and the Nations

I had already posted a review of Wright, Christopher J. H. Wright’s . Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament (Knowing God Through the Old Testament Set. Here is superb except from the book:

“We must take seriously the order of the servant mission as expressed both in Jesus’ ministry and in Paul’s repeated aphorism, “To the Jew first.” Paul insisted that even though many Jews rejected Jesus as their Messiah, God had not rejected Israel. Israel would be saved. They would be saved along with Gentiles, both through Jesus Christ. And since the Christ had come through Israel and been sent to Israel, he must be offered first to Jews. So Paul’s expression “To the Jew first” was not only a matter of missionary strategy that he followed as he moved from city to city; it was also a theological conviction. The church was not a new Gentile phenomenon, even if it looked like that as its membership became increasingly Gentile. The community of Jesus followers was a new humanity, composed of both believing Jews and Gentiles. But it was also organically and spiritually continuous with the original people of God, as Paul’s olive tree picture in Romans 11 shows. Israel had been redefined and extended, but the Jewish roots and trunk were not replaced or uprooted just because unbelieving branches had been lopped off. Evangelism among Jews is a matter of considerable controversy today.

There are powerful voices arguing that it is historically offensive because of the atrocities of Christians against Jews, culturally inappropriate and theologically mistaken. One particular theological viewpoint rejects the need for evangelism among Jews. Jews, it is said, are already in covenant relationship with God and have no need of “conversion” to Christianity. Jesus, as the founder of what is now predominantly Gentile Christianity, is the Christian Savior. He is simply unneeded by Jews. This is the view of the so-called two covenant theory. The new covenant through Jesus is for Gentile Christians. Jews are saved through their own original covenant. Evangelism in the name of Jesus is therefore rejected. There are three reasons why I cannot accept this view and regard it as fundamentally unbiblical. First, it ignores not only the Jewishness of Jesus but also his whole conscious identity and mission that we have been exploring all through this book. Jesus came within Israel, to Israel and for Israel. To say that Jews don’t need Jesus is to undermine everything Jesus believed about himself and about God’s purpose in sending him to his people. It is ultimately to betray the gospel itself by excluding from it the very people among whom it was birthed and to whom it was announced. Second, it fails altogether to see the integral link between Jesus’ mission to Israel and God’s purpose of extending salvation to the Gentiles.

This, we have seen, is the essence of the Servant identity of Jesus. This was not only the historical interpretation of the earliest church but also is fully scriptural, that is, in accordance with the Hebrew Bible. Jesus is the Savior of the world because he is the Messiah of Israel. He cannot be one and not the other. If he is not the Messiah for the Jews, then he cannot be the Savior of the Gentiles. So if evangelism among Jews (in the sense of graciously calling them to see in Jesus the Messiah who fulfills their historic, scriptural faith) is disallowed, it cuts the nerve of all other evangelism. The gospel has to be good news for the Jews if it is to be good news for anyone else. And if it is good news for them, then to fail to share it with them is the worst form of anti-Semitism. Third, the “two covenant theory” utterly subverts Paul’s claim that the very heart of the gospel was that in it God had created one new people.

It simply cannot be squared with Ephesians 2– 3. Or even Romans 9– 11. For Jesus was not just the Messiah of Israel. He was also the new Adam. In him God’s purpose for humanity as a whole was achieved, precisely not through two separate covenant arrangements but by a single new people in Christ. “His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, [Jew and Gentile], thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility” (Eph 2: 15-16). This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body and sharers together in the promise in the Messiah Jesus (Eph 3: 6).”-Wright, Christopher J. H,  Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament (Knowing God Through the Old Testament Set)  InterVarsity Press, pgs 178-180.

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“So What About ‘Lifestyle Evangelism?’”

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Introduction

Over the years I have taught classes on evangelism and apologetics. I have always stated that Christians will only get motivated to learn and apply apologetics into their lives when they start to engage the culture for the faith. I am troubled by what seems to be an obsession with ‘lifestyle evangelism’ in the churches. Sadly, for many this can lead one to assume that a silent witness is the best witness.

It is as if many Christians assume if they live a certain way, many people will automatically ask “What makes you tick?” Now don’t get me wrong. I know our actions matter. I do know we need to live what we profess. But how many of us ever meet the standard that will cause people to ask us about what we believe? Also, what if a Mormon or a Muslim is an outstanding moral person who feeds the poor and goes out of their way to love others? The point is that we need to remember something: The Apostles weren’t martyred for lifestyle evangelism. Instead, they were martyred for proclaiming the Lord. If you want to see the evangelistic vocabulary in Acts, one of my former professors (Barry Leventhal) wrote about this in his article In Search of That Elusive Jewish Evangelist. Note: there is no direct link, but you can type in the article title and read it online. I have also written a post called “Who Were The First Apologists?” Anyway, here is some of the verbage of Acts:

1. “testified”
2. “exhorted”
3. “responded”
4. “answered”
5. “spoke boldly”
6. “taught”
7. “preached”
8. “spoke”
9. “questioned”
10. “confounded”
11. “disputed against”
12. “commanded”
13. “declared”
14. “persuaded”
15. “bore witness”
16. “spoke loudly”
17. “cried out”
18. “reasoned daily from
the Scriptures in the synagogue”
19. “explained”
20. “demonstrated”
21. “proclaimed”
22. “vigorously refuted the Jews publicly, showing from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ”
23. “reasoned daily”
24. “conversed”
25. “begged to listen patiently”
26. “solemnly testified”
27. “persuading them con-erning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets from morning until evening”

28. “preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the hings which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him”

It is clear that 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. I have come up with SOME reasons as to why we should desire to give a verbal witness for our faith.

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.

2. The Name

Acts 10: The context of this chapter is Peter’s encounter with Cornelius. The normative way God reveals Himself to all humans is through the proclamation of Jesus as the Messiah by a specific individual who takes the initiative to explain the message of salvation to another. This matches up with the biblical data. There are cases in the Bible where people are sincerely religious but still had to have explicit faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord. For example, in this chapter, Cornelius is shown to be a God-fearer. He worshiped the correct God. However, he received a vision with instructions to send for Peter and awaited his message (Acts 10: 1-6, 22, 33; 11: 14). Because Cornelius ended up responding to special revelation concerning Jesus the Messiah, he attained salvation. In the Bible, people do experience salvation by the explicit preaching of the gospel (Luke 24:46-47; John 3:15-16;20-21; Acts 4:12; 11:14; 16:31; 1 Cor. 15:1-4; Heb. 4:2; 1 Pet.1:3-25; 1 John 2:23; 5:12).

In Acts 10:43 Peter says that “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his NAME.”

There is a similar theme in Acts 4:12: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

What is the significance of this verse in relation to the name of Jesus?

How could Jesus be declared as the only one whom God’s salvation is effected? In the ancient world, a name was not merely what someone was called, but rather the identification of the being and essence of its bearer.

We see that just as in the Hebrew Bible where the name of God represents the person of God and all that he is, so in the New Testament “the Name” represents all who Jesus is as Lord and Savior. James Edwards sums it up:

” In the ancient world, a name was not merely what someone was called, but rather the identifi cation of the being and essence of its bearer. To the Jewish people, an idol could not properly have a “name” because it has no being represented by the name (Is. 44:9-21). The “name” to which the apostles refer does not signify an event, but a person, in whom the authority and power of God was active in salvation. The saving activity of God was and is expressed in the name of Jesus Christ.The name of Jesus is thereby linked in the closest possible way to the name of God. “No other name” does not refer to a second name of God, but to the unity of God with Jesus, signifying one name, one nature, one saving activity. The shared nature of God and Jesus is signaled in the most striking way by the custom of the early church to pray to God in the name of Jesus” (1)

3. God has given the world more revelation of Himself in the person of Jesus the Messiah:

Historical verification is a way to test religious claims. We can detect God’s work in human history and apply historical tests to the Bible or any other religious book. The late Anthony Flew said the resurrection of Jesus was the best attested miracle claim that he had seen. Perhaps the most reasonable expectation is to ask WHERE and WHEN God has broken through into human history.

Let’s look at what Paul preached in Acts 17. It details Paul’s mission efforts to two synagogues and then his journey into Athens. As he is speaking to his audience towards the end of the chapter he says the following:

“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).

What stands out here:
(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! (2)

4. The Reign of God has broken into the world

In the New Testament, the Greek word for kingdom is “basileia,” which denotes “sovereignty,” “royal power,” and “dominion.” Biblical scholar J. Julius Scott Jr. has noted that in the ancient world, “kingdom” referred to “lordship,” “rule,” “reign,” or “sovereignty,” rather than simply a geographical location. Scott asserts “sovereignty (or rule) of God” would be a better translation than “kingdom of God,” since such a translation denotes God’s sphere or influence or control and includes any person or group who, regardless of their location, acknowledge His sovereignty. (3)

There is no kingdom without a King. In observing the ministry of Jesus, He demonstrated one of the visible signs of His inauguration of the kingdom of God would not only be the dispensing of the Holy Spirit (John 7: 39), but also the ability to perform miracles. If the reign of God is breaking into human history, then the King has come. If the Messianic age has arrived, then the Messiah must be present.

As Paul states in Colossians 1:13-14, “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

There is a relationship between Paul’s commission in Acts 26:16-18 and 2 Corinthians 4:4-6:

“I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in me.” (Acts 26:15-18)

“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Christ’s sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,“ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”
(2 Corinthians 4: 4-6).

We see the relationship between these two passages:

Acts 26:16-18:
(1) Paul’s commission;
(2) Vision of God
(3) Existence under Satan
(4) [Blinded-presupposed]
(5) Turning to God
(6) From darkness to light

2 Corinthians 4:4-6:
(1) Paul’s commission
(2) Vision of God
(3) Under “god of this age”
(4) Blinded
(5) Implied: Turning to God
(6) From Darkness to Light

Source: Data adopted from Seyoom Kim, Paul and the NewPerspective: Second Thoughts on the Origin of Paul’s Gospel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 102; cited in John Piper’s God is the Gospel.

5. All of us miss the mark!

Imagine someone with a bow and arrow who is trying to hit the bullseye on a target but they keep missing. This is a picture of what sin is. The Greek word for sin is “harmatia” which means “to miss the mark.” Sin is missing the mark, falling short of God’s absolute standard of perfection. Sin is going astray, being in autonomy of God. Because of sin, humans have an alienation problem. Alienation means to be estranged or split apart from someone or even a community, etc. Alienation does not allow us to have the harmony and proper relationship with God that he intended.

There is a Hebrew word called “Shalom” which means peace, completeness, or wholeness. It can it can refer to either peace between two entities (especially between man and God or between two countries). Why do we lack this wholeness? Sadly, sin causes us to be fragmented. Jesus is the one who offers reconciliation and shalom with our Creator.

6. We share our faith because we think Christianity is true

Guess what? We are living in a day where there is a loss of objective truth. I hope we all know that our faith doesn’t make Christianity true. My faith won’t change the fact that objectively speaking, God exists or doesn’t exist or that Jesus rose from the dead in the past. The proposition “God exists” means that there really is a God outside the universe. Likewise, the claim that “God raised Christ from the dead” means that the dead corpse of Jesus of Nazareth factually rose from the dead in the context of real time, space, and history.

What about the person who says, “If Jesus works for you, that is great, but it is not my thing.” This is what is called “The Felt Needs Gospel.” It is true that the Gospel does meet a variety of needs in people’s lives. But I still concur that we need to present our faith as something that is true and reasonable. As J.P. Moreland says:

“ Today, we share the gospel as a means of addressing felt needs. We give testimonies of changed lives and say to people if they want to become better parents or overcome depression or loneliness, that the Jesus is their answer. This approach to evangelism is inadequate for two reasons. First, it does not reach people who may be out of touch with their feelings. Second, it invites the response, “Sorry, I do not have a need.” Have you noticed how no one responded to Paul in this manner? In Acts 17-20, he based his preaching on the fact that the gospel is true and reasonable to believe. He reasoned and tried to persuade people to intelligently accept Jesus.” (4)

It is my hope that when it comes to communicating the Good News, we will use both words and actions.  Given we live in a day of religious pluralism and a world where people have so many spiritual options, to assume people will pick our faith over another because of our lifestyle is assuming too much.

1. Edwards, J.R., Is Jesus the Only Savior? Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Group, 2005, 106.
2. Marshall. I.H., The Acts of the Apostles. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Grand Rapids: MI: Intervarsity Press. 1980, 288-290.
3. Scott Jr, J.J., Customs and Controversies: Intertestamental Jewish Backgrounds of the New
Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995, 297.
4. Moreland, J.P. Love Your God With All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul. Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress. 1997, 25.

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The Confusion Between Metaphysical and Methodological Naturalism

Naturalism (Interventions) by [Goetz, Stewart, Charles Taliaferro]

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).

We see 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  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.

In the end, we see the reductionist approach here. 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).

Deductive reasoning is called a priori (prior to looking at the facts) and inductive reasoning is called a posteriori (after seeing the evidence). It is evident that in many cases, the objection to the resurrection of Jesus is mostly philosophical in nature and is a priori.  Methodological naturalism is a position that says science or history should seek only natural explanations and that attempts to find supernatural causes are ipso facto, not science. In contrast, metaphysical naturalism starts with the presupposition that all that exists is nature. Presupposing that all that exists is nature and then using methodological naturalism to prove this presupposition is arguing in a circle. In my experience, many people confuse metaphysical and methodological naturalism.

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The Challenge of Technology and Spiritual Blindness

Over the last fifteen years,  I have been doing evangelism and apologetics on a major college campus. What is probably our greatest challenge today? Technology! What do I mean by this? 90% percent of the students I see daily or weekly are on their cell phones. Trying to get them to engage and get out of their personal cell phone life is a real challenge. I really think the adversary our souls is using this to his advantage. Let me illustrate:

There is a relationship between Paul’s commission in Acts 26:16-18 and 2 Corinthians 4:4-6:

“I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in me.” (Acts 26:15-18)

“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Christ’s sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,“ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”
(2 Corinthians 4: 4-6).

We see the relationship between these two passages:

Acts 26:16-18:
(1) Paul’s commission;
(2) Vision of God
(3) Existence under Satan
(4) [Blinded-presupposed]
(5) Turning to God
(6) From darkness to light

2 Corinthians 4:4-6:
(1) Paul’s commission
(2) Vision of God
(3) Under “god of this age”
(4) Blinded
(5) Implied: Turning to God
(6) From Darkness to Light

Source: Data adopted from Seyoom Kim, Paul and the NewPerspective: Second Thoughts on the Origin of Paul’s Gospel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 102; cited in John Piper’s God is the Gospel.

In the end, we need to heed the words of Pascal:

“If our condition were truly happy, we would not need diversion from thinking of it in order to make ourselves happy…”

“As men are not able to fight against death, misery, ignorance, they have taken it into their heads, in order to be happy, not to think of them at all…”

“The only thing which consoles us for our miseries is diversion, and yet this it the greatest of our miseries. For it is this which principally hinders us from reflecting upon ourselves, and which makes us insensibly ruin ourselves. Without this we should be in a state of weariness, and this weariness would spur us to seek a more solid means of escaping from it. But diversion amuses us, and leads us unconsciously to death.”

– Blaise Pascal (1623–1662), Pensées, 139, 164-165, 171

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Science and Faith: Friends or Foes?

Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology by [Moreland, J. P.]

J.P. Moreland released a book last year called Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology. 

One of the main themes that runs through discussions on college campuses and in academia is that faith/theology and science are diametrically opposed to one another. Since science tests the observable, is this the correct way to approach the existence of God?

In my view, one of the best solutions to handling the issue of evidence and arguments for God’s existence is to 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.  Since we can’t see God as a material object, we have to look at the effects in the world and make rational inferences to the cause of the effect. Hence, we have to look to see if God has left us any pointers that lead the way to finding Him.

The inference to the best explanation model takes into account the best available explanation in our whole range of experience and reflection. For example, when we look at these features of reality, which provides a more satisfactory explanation:

  • 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?

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.

Why does this feature of reality exist? Is it the result of nature itself or something outside nature? 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.

You can see this approach in The Return of the God Hypothesis  by Stephen C. Meyer or Paul Copan’s God: The Best Explanation

Science or Scientism: Philosophical Errors and Presuppositions

Science is a method of gaining knowledge of the natural world by inference through observation, experimentation, and making predictions, based upon cause and effect relationships. Scientism is an epistemology (theory of knowledge) which reduces all knowledge to the aforementioned scientific method; this means that the only way to know things are true is through the natural sciences. This approach is illegitimate. That is because it reduces humanity’s knowledge of all of reality to this one area alone, and it argues in a circle. The assertion “All truth claims must be scientifically verifiable” makes a philosophical assumption: the very statement itself is not scientifically verifiable.n

What needs to be remembered is that science is dependent upon certain philosophical presuppositions such as:

1. The existence of a theory- independent, external world 2. The orderly nature of the external world 3. The knowability of the external world 4. The existence of truth 5. The laws of logic 6. The reliability of our cognitive and sensory faculties to serve as truth-gatherers and as a source of justified beliefs in our intellectual environment. 7. The adequacy of language to describe the real world 8. The existence of values used in science (e.g., “test theories fairly and report test results honestly”) 9. The uniformity of nature and induction 10. The existence of numbers (1)

A theist asserts that the physical universe is not all there is. There is an infinite, personal God who created it, sustains it and can act within it in a natural and non-natural way. As I can say without hesitation that I am ignorant about many things, I generally find that many people are generally ignorant about the history between theism and science. In the words of physicist Paul Davies, “Science began as an outgrowth of theology, and all scientists, whether atheists or theists…..accept an essentially theological worldview.” (2)

In John Haught’s book Science and Faith: A New Introduction, he says there are three current models about the relationship between faith and science:

1.Conflict Model: Faith is rooted in fantasy, whereas science is based on observable, empirically available data. Faith is highly emotional and subjective, whereas science is dispassionate, impersonal, and objective.

2. Contrast: Science and faith are distinct but no conflict can exist between faith and science since they each respond to radically different questions. There is no real competition between them, so there can be no real conflict.

3. Convergence: Science and faith are distinct because they ask different kinds of questions, but they may still interact fruitfully. Convergence tries to move beyond both conflict and allow for an ongoing conversation between science and faith.

One thing to always ask is the following:

Which of the following branches of science should demonstrate the existence or nonexistence of God?

  1. The natural or physical sciences, such as physics, chemistry, biology, geology, astronomy.
  2. The social sciences, such as linguistics, textual hermeneutics, anthropology, and sociology.
  3. The mathematical and logical sciences such as engineering, computer science, and theoretical math.
When Science Masquerades as Philosophy

In Alex Rosenberg’s The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, he attempts to demonstrate why science is “our exclusive guide to reality.” Here, Rosenberg attempts to provide a neat synopsis of life’s big questions, along with what he considers to be scientifically reliable answers. Here are some of life’s big questions that he thinks science can answer:

Is there a God? No. What is the nature of reality? What physics says it is. What is the purpose of the universe? There is none. What is the meaning of life? Ditto. Why am I here? Just dumb luck . . . Is there free will? Not a chance. What is the difference between right and wrong, good and bad? There is no moral difference between them. Why should I be moral? Because it makes you feel better than being immoral. Is abortion, euthanasia, suicide, paying taxes, foreign aid, or anything else you don’t like forbidden, permissible, or something obligatory? Anything goes.[3]

Here, Rosenberg makes the assumption that what science reveals to us is all that is real. But as Edward Feser points out, Rosenberg is guilty of a reductionist view of reality. Feser illustrates:

  1. Metal detectors have had far greater success in finding coins and other metallic objects in more places than any other method has.
  2. Therefore, what metal detectors reveal to us (coins and other metallic objects) is probably all that is real.[4]

Anyone who came to this conclusion about metal detectors should visit a doctor, of course. The point is, Rosenberg and others who follow his lead should allow for additional ways besides science to explain reality along with life’s big questions. Metal detectors will always find metal and science will always find material/physical explanations to reality. We must  ask what kinds of questions science can legitimately answer.  Can science can answer the “why” questions?  Yes, it is true science can say why the universe exists. In other words, they can say the universe exists because of the Big Bang or some other scientific explanation. But, science is generally restricted to study how the mechanisms work behind several features of the natural or physical world. But once science attempts to answer whether or why the universe and several features of reality may have a deeper purpose, design, or an end goal, it enters the realm of philosophy..

Note: See our 22 Suggested Readings on this topic. 

Sources:

1. Moreland, J.P. The Creation Hypothesis: Scientific Evidence for an Intelligent Designer (Downers Grove ILL: InterVaristy Press, 1994), 16-17.

2. Davies, P. Are We Alone? (New York: Basic, 1995), 96.

3. Alexander Rosenberg,  A. The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life without Illusions (New York: W.W. Norton. 2012), 2-3.

4.Feser, E. Five Proofs for The Existence of God (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2017), 281.

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10 New Suggested Readings for Budding Apologists

Here are some of my picks on the latest apologetic/philosophy/history reading. Some of these books have been released over the past few months or last year.

  1. Cultural Apologetics: Renewing the Christian Voice, Conscience, and Imagination in a Disenchanted World [Paul M. Gould, J. P. Moreland}.
  2. Edward Feser: Aristotle’s Revenge: The Metaphysical Foundations of Physical and Biological Science. 
  3. Richard Swinburne: Are We Bodies Or Souls? 
  4. David Wenham: From Good News to Gospels: What Did the First Christians Say about Jesus? 
  5. Craig Keener: Memory, History, and the Reliability of the Gospels  
  6. Eric Chabot: The Resurrection of the Jewish Messiah
  7. Eric Chabot and Chris Van Allsburg: Does God Exist? Why It Matters 
  8. Ian Hutchinson: Can a Scientist Believe in Miracles?: An MIT Professor Answers Questions on God and Science (Veritas)
  9. Paul Barnett: Making the Gospels: Mystery or Conspiracy?
  10. James Dew and Paul Gould: Philosophy: A Christian Introduction 
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You Are What You Think!

I have often heard the saying “You are what you eat!” Well, there is some truth to that. But I think a more pressing issue is “You are what you think.” I am convinced the pressing problem in our lives is that we don’t think well. And every action begins with a thought.  Every day I get up, I first give my mind to God and ask him to help me to think well during the day.

In other words, I want a mind that is used for his glory. I don’t always do this. But with God’s grace, I strive to improve in this area every day. So let me give a few tips for thinking well.

First, Paul gives us some helpful tips:

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;  do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” -Philippians 4: 4-9

Notice that , Paul wants us to “dwell” which means to concentrate on the following:

  1. Things that are “true”—the opposite of erroneous thinking
  2. Things that are “righteous” —our thoughts must be in line with the unchanging character of God who is perfectly righteous
  3. “Things that are honorable”—things that are worthy of our adoration and devotion…not things that profane the name of God
  4. “Pure” —things that are morally pure and undefiled
  5. “Honorable”­—things that deserve to be commended.

I am convinced that throughout the day, Christians don’t dwell on these things. We dwell on things that don’t match up with reality or we dwell on things that cause us to covet or to be discontent or envious. Also, if you watch enough reality television,  that will not help matters.

Second, the Christian Needs to Know the Key Idea Structures of the Culture

“False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the gospel. We may preach with all the fervor of a reformer and yet succeed only in winning a straggler here and there, if we permit the whole collective thought of the nation to be controlled by ideas […] which prevent Christianity from being regarded as anything more than a harmless delusion.” – J. Gresham Machen, “Christianity and Culture,” Princeton Theological Review 11 (1913):

Paul speaks about this here:

“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:3-5 ).

C.S. Lewis said, Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.” There is a lot of truth here. The Christian needs to know the idea structures of the world. This includes a thorough understanding of naturalism, pragmatism, rationalism, etc. A good primer is The Consequences of Ideas, by R.C. Sproul 

Third, the Christian Needs to Renew Their Minds Daily

Paul also gives us a key text here:

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”- Romans 12: 1-2

It is impossible to have a disciplined mind apart from regular mediation and reading of the text. There is a difference between devotional reading and studying the text. If we want to think well, we need to ingest the Bible on a daily basis. It is good for us and keeps us sharp and close to God.

Fourth, Thinking Well Means We Need to Know Our Identity In Christ

It is imperative that we continually know our position in Christ. The power of the resurrection comes to us everyday in Christ. Therefore, God wants us to experience the resurrection power of Jesus on an ongoing basis. As Paul says in Galatians 2:19-20, “For through the law I died to the law, that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.” What we tend to forget that Jesus did not die and rose from the dead only for us to go to heaven. He has given us victory over sin in this life. Thus, he broke the power of sin. Yes, we will still sin some times. But, we should not make excuses and say I just can’t overcome any sin. That is a lie. And it not based on a positional understanding of our relationship with God.

If we don’t think well, we will forget our position and identity in the Lord. We will take our identity from other’s opinions of us or what we have or don’t have.

I hope these tips help. Have a blessed day!

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