Why Apologists Can’t Afford to Ignore the Work of The Holy Spirit

Introduction

When Jesus brought his Church into existence, he gave all his people certain gifts so they can be a blessing to others. As Rick Schenker, former President of Ratio Christi (a nationwide apologetics ministry) once said, “the apologist is truly fulfilling the Ephesians 4:11,12 model of an evangelist by equipping others to “do the work of the ministry”– namely winning their family, friends, neighbors and co-workers to Christ. Apologists are doing the exact thing that Paul told his protégé Timothy to do, “The things which you have heard from me…, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also,” (2 Timothy 2:2).” See the entire article here:

All of us who have been in the apologetic endeavor know it can be hard to get our fellow Christians to get motivated about the apologetic task before us. I think one of the first things that needs to be dealt with is getting Christians motivated about engaging the culture. For the record, even though I lead an apologetic ministry on a college campus and having done lots of outreach, I am just as susceptible to weaknesses such as apathy, complacency, and self-centeredness. One thing that helps me when I began to fall into these areas of struggle is to remember the following:

The Holy Spirit is the Agent of Evangelism and Apologetics

In my opinion, one of the most important statements made by Jesus are seen in John 14: 15-21:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever,even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”

Who is the Holy Spirit and What is His Role?

The Holy Spirit is one who consoles or comforts, one who encourages or uplifts; hence refreshes, and/or one who intercedes on our behalf as an advocate in court.  Many scholars say the Holy Spirit is “another Jesus.” He is the one who is called to one’s side; He takes the place of Jesus. His primary role is to exalt Jesus and is He is with Believers forever (John 14:6). I can say for certain that any time I have ever grown complacent or apathetic, the Holy Spirit is always at work trying to stir my heart towards a lost and needy world. Now don’t get me wrong; the only way we can really experience His stirring is if we maintain a close relationship with God. Regular prayer, Bible study and devotion, as well as deep covenantal relationships with our fellow Christians play a large role in sensing His presence and promptings in our lives. Hence, spiritual disciplines play major factor in whether we will be truly yielded to God.

When Jesus said to his disciples “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized withwater, but in a few days you will be baptized withthe Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:4-5), we need to remember every child of god is indwelt by the same Spirit that Jesus promised to his original disciples. We also need to come to the place where we ask God in prayer to give us a heart for the world around us. While we may have read the commands about evangelism, we still can’t get over the hump. He may need to do a supernatural work in us so we can eventually take up a cross and follow the Lord on daily basis (Luke 9:23). Once again, this work is something that can only be done by our cooperation with the Spirit in us. We can ask God to change our hearts. And we need to remember because of the reality of life itself, many of us may be at the place where we have grown hardened or calloused towards others. We may need to ask God to  do some major surgery on us.

Are Apologists Afraid of the Holy Spirit?

I can’t speak for everyone here. But I have been exposed to plenty of apologists. I have met and interacted with them in joint efforts, evangelism, prayer, and writing. I am all for logic, critical thinking, and rational argumentation. Apologetics integrates a broad variety of disciplines such as history, science, ethics, theology, philosophy, etc. Hence, it can end up becoming quite exhausting.

Another passage to remember:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” (John 15:1-4).

I think many of us as apologists need to have a deeper spirituality. I am not advocating weirdness or fanaticism. But when we become overly fixated on evidence and epistemological certainty, it can almost become an idol at times. It consumes us. We all know that in many cases it is evidence and epistemological certainty that atheists/skeptics say they are after. For Christians, unless we spend time in community and are committed to spiritual disciplines, we may run the risk of drying up and eventually leaving the faith.

In my opinion, J.P. Moreland is one of the most brilliant Christian philosophers to date. He is also one that teaches and speaks on how to integrate the mind into our faith. He knows we have to see it as a holistic process. Check out his website here.

So we may want to ask some important questions?

1 How deep are your roots? (Hint, study John 15)
2. Are you drawing from Him on a daily basis?
3. Are you finding satisfaction in Him?
4. Do you long to know Him better?
5. Where are you in your spiritual disciplines?

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Why Christian faith simply can’t be about a relationship with Jesus!

Over the years, I have attempted to educate youth, college students, and adults about the need to move from a privatized faith to a public faith. In other words, when we present the Gospel, almost all of us talk about how people can have a personal relationship with God through His Son, Jesus the Messiah. While our faith is certainly about our relationship with Jesus, unfortunately, many Christians stop there. Thus, they don’t see their faith as a worldview. Therefore, they aren’t taught that their faith should be able to answer the big questions of reality. C.S. Lewis once said ” I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

The term worldview was used in the sense described by prominent German philosopher Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911). Dilthey affirmed that philosophy must be defined as a comprehensiveness vision of reality that involves the social and historical reality of humankind, including religion. A worldview is thus the nature and structure of the body of convictions of a group or individual. (1) Worldview includes a sense of meaning and value and principles of action. It is much more than merely an “outlook” or an “attitude.” Each person’s worldview is based on a key category, an organizing principle, a guiding image, a clue, or an insight selected from the complexity of his or her multidimensional experience. (2)

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

Some of the fundamental questions that make up a worldview are the following:
• Origins: How did it all begin? Where did we come from?
• Fall: What went wrong? What is the source of evil and suffering?
• Redemption: What can we do about it? How can the world be set right again?
• Morality: What is the basis for morality? In other words, how do we know what is right and wrong?
• History: What is the meaning of history? Where is history going?
• Death: What happens to a person at death?
• Epistemology: Why is it possible to know anything at all?
• Ontology: What is reality? What is the nature of the external reality around us?
• Purpose: What is man’s purpose in the world? (3)

How does one decide on a worldview? Here are some guidelines:

First of all, a worldview must be consistent: Reason has to be utilized which includes systematic criteria. In using systematic criteria, an individual appraises the truth of a system or worldview.These criteria do not produce systems of thought; instead they judge them. David Wolfe has identified four ways in which one may judge a system of thought: consistency (meaning ideas do not contradict each other) and coherence (the ideas have a positive fit). These are the rational criteria. Comprehensiveness (a system of thought that incorporates the broad range of experience) and congruence (the idea fits human experience) are part of the empirical criteria.(4)

Reason also utilizes the laws of logic (the law of non-contradiction- A is not non-A; the law of identity- A is A; the law of excluded middle- either- A or non-A). The laws of logic have to be used in evaluating a worldview. If contradiction is a sign of falsity, then noncontradiction (or consistency) is a necessity for truth. A real contradiction occurs when two truth claims are given and one is the logical opposite of the other (they are logically contradictory, not merely contrary).(5)

In relation to the creation account, two worldviews that make opposite truth claims are metaphysical naturalism and biblical theism. The naturalistic worldview came to be more prominent during the Enlightenment period. Philosophical or metaphysical naturalism refers to the view that nature is the “whole show.” Biblical theism does acknowledge that while God is the primary Cause of all things, He also works through secondary causes. In other words, God acts in the world through direct intervention (a miracle such as the creation of the universe) and natural causes or indirect actions (preservation). In other words, theism does allow for natural causes but also is open to a non-natural cause as well. After all, natural laws do nothing and set nothing into motion. A “law of nature” is a description of what happens when no agent (whether it be divine, human, etc) is interfering or intervening into the casual order. Their effects are produced by natural forces whose processes are an observable part of the ongoing operation of the physical universe.

In a Christian worldview, the universe was created from nothing (ex nihilo). One of the classical or traditional arguments for God’s existence is the cosmological argument. While Christian apologist William Lane Craig has revived the horizontal form of the cosmological argument, Thomas Aquinas left the church with an apologetic for the vertical form of the same argument. While the former centers on how the universe began in some time in the past, the latter focuses on how the universe exists at this very moment. In other words, the horizontal form is interested in originating causality or the First Cause of the universe while the vertical form defends the need for conserving causality or a Sustainer of the universe.

Secondly, a worldview must be comprehensive: A worldview should cover the whole world of reality. A worldview must provide adequate answers to the worldview questions mentioned above.

Third, a worldview must be livable:
 After all, a worldview is not just a philosophical system but something that can be attempted to live out each day. Thus, if some views are not livable, then they are not adequate. However, remember that what works is not always true. Lies work very well for many people, but that does not make a lie true.(7) Truth is determined by what corresponds to reality, not simply results. Therefore, while a pragmatic test is helpful, it cannot be the only test for the truthfulness of a worldview.

Fourth, a good worldview will have adequate explanatory power: When examining how a worldview needs explanatory power, it is important to emphasize that a good worldview needs to avoid both extremes of being neither too simple or too complex. In his book called A Case For Christian Theism, Arlie J. Hoover uses the famous “Occam’s razor test.” William of Occam (1300-1349) supposedly said, “Do not multiply entities without necessity” which basically means to resist the temptation to make our explanations too complex. On the other hand, the worldview should not be so simplistic that it commits the reductive fallacy. In other words, it cannot be too simple. (8) A good worldview will be able to explain a wide variety of things that we observe in the world.

Epistemology and Ontology: Fifth, a good worldview will allow for a wide range of methods in the knowing process. To reduce reality to one area of knowledge (such as the scientific method) is a fatal mistake. Furthermore, it also commits the reductive fallacy. A worldview should recognize that humans come to know and experience reality in a wide variety of ways by not only the scientific/empirical method, but also by memory, the testimony of others, intuition, religious experience, logical reasoning, listening to the authorities of others, etc. A good worldview will emphasize a balance between both the objective and the subjective.

As worldview analyst David K. Naugle says:

“Ways of knowing the world complementing the capacities of sight and mind should be also be embraced by believers in order to do justice to their complete God-given natures and allow them to comprehend the totality of reality in its rich multiplicity and fullness. Naugle goes onto quote what spiritual writer Palker Palmer calls “wholesight,” which fuses sensation and rationality into union with other, yet often neglected ways of knowing such as imagination, intuition, empathy, emotion, and most certainly faith. In God’s epistemic grace, he has provided a variety of cognitive capacities which are adequate for and to be employed in grasping the diverse modes of created reality, and ancient concept known as adaequatio. All capacities ought to be well employed when it comes to apprehending the truth about God, humankind, and the cosmos, else one suffers from metaphysical indulgence. (9)

As E. P Schumacher explains: “The answer to the question, what are man’s instruments by which he knows the world outside him? is….quite inescapably this: “Everything he has got”- his living body, his mind, his self aware Spirit…It may even be misleading to say that man has many instruments of cognition, since in fact, the whole man is one instrument…..The Great Truth of adaequatio teaches us that restriction in the use of instruments of cognition has the inevitable effect of narrowing and impoverishing reality.” (10)

So you might ask where to I begin to work on my worldview?  I will recommend four resources here:

A World of Difference (Reasons to Believe): Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test by [Samples, Kenneth Richard]

So the question is do you have a private faith, or a public faith? Can your faith answer the big questions of our day?

Sources:

1.Newport. J.P. Life’s Ultimate Questions: A Contemporary Philosophy of Religion. Dallas: Word Publishing. 1989, 4.
2.Ibid.
3.Pearcey, N. Total Truth. Liberating Christianity From Its Cultural Captivity. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books. 2004, 25-28.
4.Clark, D.J. Dialogical Apologetics: A Person Centered Approach to Christian Defense. Grand Rapids MI: Baker Books. 1993, 85-86
5.Geisler, N.L. Systematic Theology Vol 1. Bloomington, MINN: Bethany House Publishers 2003, 82-96.
6.Ibid, 40-63.
7.Ibid, 110-124.
8.Hoover, A.J. The Case for Christian Theism. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House. 1976, 52.
9.Naugle, D.K. Worldview: The History Of A Concept. Grand Rapids, Eerdmans. 2002, 266-274.
10.Naugle, 266-274.

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An Easy Way to Explain the Role of Apologetics in a Christian’s Life

For most of us in the apologetics endeavor, on many occasions I have found myself having to explain what apologetics is to my Christian friends. I have also noted elsewhere that I have had to give an apologetic for why we should see the need for apologetics. After the last election (in 2016), I  have found a very simple way to explain the role of apologetics. Given there were so many debates and so many Christians had to give reasons or justification for why they picked a specific candidate, I have used this as a springboard to explain the need for  apologetics.

I generally ask my fellow Christians if they had to give reasons for why they picked a specific candidate. They always say “yes.” Then I ask them if they have to had to ever give good reasons for why they chose a specific vocation or a specific major to study. Again, they agree they have had to do that as well. What about giving good reasons for why they picked a specific church? Or what about giving reasons for why they picked a specific spouse? Or what about giving good reasons for picking a specific place to live? Or what about giving reasons for why they follow a specific sports team? The list goes on. The point is we have had to give reasons for almost every position we have taken or choice we’ve made. In the book Good Arguments: Making Your Case in Writing and Public Speaking, the authors note the following definitions: 

  1. Argument: the process of giving a systematic account of reasons in support of a claim or belief.
  2. We use effective argumentation to defend our position as a reasonable option among various choices.
  3.  Claims and beliefs go hand in hand. For anything you believe, you can state that belief in the form of a claim

So as we’ve just noted, almost all Christians have to give reasons to support their positions/claims or choices they’ve made. Therefore, why wouldn’t a Christian see the need to give good reasons for why they think there is a God and Jesus is His Son? It seems like this issue impacts one’s view of reality. So this is a huge issue. Once I explain it this way, most Christians see the need to learn apologetics. Give it a try!

 

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Book Review: Bound for the Promised Land: (New Studies in Biblical Theology) by Owen Martin

Bound for the Promised Land: (New Studies in Biblical Theology) by Owen Martin, IVP Academic, 2015. 210 pp.  0830826351

Bound for the Promised Land (New Studies in Biblical Theology) by [Martin, Oren]

When it comes to a theology of the land and how it plays a role in the Bible, there have been very few treatments of such an important topic. Oren Martin attempts to do this with his book Bound for the Promised Land: (New Studies in Biblical Theology). As Martin says in Chapter One, “The aim of the present study is to demonstrate that the land promised to Abraham advances the place of the kingdom that was lost in Eden and serves as a type throughout Israel’s history that anticipates the even greater land – prepared for all of God’s people throughout history – that will come as a result of the person and work of Christ. In other words, the land and its blessings find their fulfillment in the new heaven and new earth won by Christ.”- Pg 17.

Martin does a wonderful job of expounding on the importance of the land theme and how it relates to the entire biblical narrative.  He discusses some of the written works that have attempted to wrestle with the issue of the land and how it relates to the narrative (Walter Brueggemann, W. D. Davies, Craig Bartholomew, Gary Burdge and others).  Martin is also correct that some treatments of the land in the Bible are shaped by conflicting views (e.g. Palestinian Christian, Jewish Christian). As I anticipated, Martin discusses typology. He says,

“An important methodological component for this study is typology, which involves correspondence(s) between persons, events and institutions, and later persons, events and institutions. That is, God’s past dealings with his people serve as patterns, or types, for his future dealings with his people.”- pg 25.

He says, “Typology is prospective and prophetic. That is, God intentionally planned certain persons, events and institutions in redemptive history in order that they would serve later redemptive – and Christological – realities.”- pg 26.

As Martin points out, one of the goals of Biblical theology is to wrestle with the promise- fulfillment theme of both Testaments. In other words, how do both Testaments relate to one another? The land is just one of several topics that Biblical theology much wrestle with. Martin is correct the land theme has been often neglected and this is quite sad given how much space is given to this topic in the Bible.  Martin evaluates the land theme in both the Jewish Scriptures and the New Testament. I commend him for that. In some cases, many treatments of a theological topic will start with the New Testament and then go backwards. I always have found that to be the wrong hermeneutical approach.

In Martin’s chapter on The Epistles , I anticipated that Martin would mention this text: “For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.”-Romans 4:13. Martin says:

“The land initially promised to Abraham and his descendants extended to the borders of Canaan, both the typological pattern and trajectory of the Old Testament show that as his offspring multiplied and filled the earth, so also would the boundaries of the land encompass the earth. Of particular importance is Genesis 26:3–4, where the unique plural ‘lands’ (hā’ărāṣōt), when read in conjunction with the oath to which it alludes in Genesis 22:17–18, makes clear that Abraham’s seed will possess/inherit the gate of his enemies.14 This, together with Genesis 22:17, provides firm exegetical  warrant for Paul’s assertion that Abraham would inherit the world. Paul, then, is demonstrating sound biblical exegesis, informed by Scripture’s redemptive-historical story line, by putting all three elements of the covenant together. Therefore in the light of Christ – Abraham’s (singular) seed (Gal. 3) – Abraham and his (corporate) offspring will inherit the world as people, both Jew and Gentile, come to faith in Jesus Christ.”- pgs 134-135.

So here we have the issue that has always been a large part of this topic: The particular and the universal. God uses the particular (a particular person or people) to bring blessing to the universal (the world). Some of the particulars that have been debated are the following:

1. Israel is (the type- the particular)  in the Old Testament. The Church ( the anti-type: a people group composed of Jews and Gentiles) is the universal- the fulfillment.

2. God uses a particular man (Abraham the type) and his people (the Jews- the type) to bring blessing to their neighbors and to the world (Christianity-the universal). 

3. (Christianity- the universal) replaces or fulfills Judaism (the particular). Granted, anyone that has kept up with scholarship that has focused on the Second Temple period (James Dunn, N.T. Wright, and others) have been saying the same thing. The first followers of Jesus were a sect of Judaism and they were one of several “Judaism’s” in the first century. Thus, is you were a Jew or Gentile in the first century and you came to follow Jesus, you were part of the Jewish world. Because of several historical, theological, and sociological factors, today, Christianity is totally separate religion that has very little do with Judaism. Because of this, many Christians view Judaism as about law and legalism, while Christianity is viewed as being about grace and love. But to assume there is one Judaism in the first century and then Jesus comes and now we have Christianity which fulfills Judaism is just historically inaccurate and ignores the complexities of the Second Temple period. 

With these thoughts in mind, it is alleged that Romans 4:13 reveals a universalization of the Abrahamic promise. It is assumed that this indicates that the “world” has replaced or ‘fulfilled” Israel’s purpose  in the consummation of the covenant promise. I have never really understood why this text is one of the main texts theologians attempt to utilize to demonstrate that the land has been so universalized that it redefines or even replaces, or supersedes Israel. So the question is whether Abraham understood that the land promised to him as simply as a type anticipating the future reality of the coming of the messianic kingdom with the Messiah himself assuming the throne of David in heaven? So was Abraham’s ultimate goal  the attainment of a spiritual land?

I will defer to Steven M. Vantassel comment’s in the book  The Jews, Modern Israel and the New Supersessionism (New Revised and Expanded Edition), by Calvin Smith and Calvin L. Smith. He says:

“The Greek word translated world is kosmos occurs 9 times in Romans (Rom 1:8, 20; 3:6, 19; 4:13; 5:12, 13; 11:12, 13). Only 1:20 definitely refers to the physical planet. All the remaining occurrences of kosmos can be interpreted as referring to human activity and not to geography. For example, in Romans 1:8, Paul says that the faith of the Romans is proclaimed throughout the whole world. Clearly, Paul is referring to the preaching of the Gospel to people and not to physical locations. Even if one says, that Paul intended kosmos to refer to people and places, we still must ask if one is primary. Even if we concede that Paul wanted kosmos to refer to the planet, the verse still lacks sufficient force to overthrow the view that God promised ethnic Jews the land of Israel.”

Obviously, Genesis predicts that Abraham literally would be  the father of many Gentile nations. This did happen. But  the logic of Paul’s argument that Abraham and his descendant(s) would inherit the world gives no indication that the specific land promised in Genesis 13, 15, and so on will be missing from that world. Rom 4:13 is used as the one big text to show the land promise has been transcended. But we would have to look the treatment of the land in the entire Bible. Granted, Martin does cover plenty of other texts besides Rom 4:13. But this one seems to utilized to build the case for their position.

Towards the end of the book, Martin is fair in evaluating  both dispensational and covenantal views of the land promise in the Bible. I have grown tired of the debates between both of these schools of thought. Martin mentions some of strengths and weaknesses of both views. But he then mentions some of the issues of “Inaugurated Eschatology” which says the the end times were inaugurated in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and thus there are both “already” and “not yet” aspects to the Kingdom of God.  We are now living in the end times (or latter days), which were inaugurated at the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. With the kingdom of God having been inaugurated by Jesus, the church has access to the kingdom promises right now. In the context of this issue, Martin says something that is a theme I see quite frequently:

“The New Testament shows that all of God’s saving promises have already been fulfilled in Christ and that these promises are expanding where Christ is present – in the church now and finally in the new heaven and new earth in the age to come. Secondly, Scripture presents the New Testament antitype to fulfill the Old Testament type, for in and through the person and work of Christ all of God’s promises have reached their telos. This point is what distinguishes the view of this book from replacement theology. In other words, it is not that the church replaces Israel and inherits her blessings. Rather, Israel finds its fulfillment not in a community but in an individual Son of God.”- Pg 170.

Martin, like others, have moved away from wanting to be having a replacement, or a “supersessionist” view of Israel and the church. So they now call it “fulfillment” theology. But this puts us back to the debate over the particular and the universal (see above). If Martin and others say the particular reaches its fulfillment in Jesus and Christianity (see above), does it really make any difference to use the word “fulfill” over terminology such as “replace” or “supersedes.”   In Gerald R. McDermott’s Israel Matters: Why Christians Must Think Differently  he discusses the terms “Replacement Theology” and “Supersessionism.” He says:

“Supersessionism holds that all the promises that God made to Old Testament Israel are now (since the resurrection of Jesus) applied to the Christian Church. The promises were contingent on obedience to the covenant. Biblical Jews broke the terms of that covenant—both before Jesus came, by breaking God’s laws, and then after Jesus came, by refusing to accept him as their messiah. But since Jesus obeyed all of God’s law, and all believers in him are joined to him, his obedience is credited to them. So by virtue of his obedience and their inclusion in him, Christians receive the blessings of the covenant. They are members of the New Israel, which is his body, the Church. This is also called “replacement theology.” The Church replaced biblical Israel as the apple of God’s eye. God’s covenant with ancient Israel was replaced by Jesus’new covenant, which is made with all those who believe in him. The Church has replaced the Jews as the inheritors of all the biblical promises concerning Israel. When Christians read the Old Testament prophecies about the restoration of the people of Israel to the land of Israel, they should interpret those prophecies as referring to the Christian Church. The true meaning, according to this view, is that the Church will inherit the whole world in the age to come. All of those in the Church will be blessed, not just Jews. There will no longer be a distinction between Jews and gentiles among those who believe in Jesus, and there will be no land of Israel separate from the rest of the world. For the Church has replaced the ethnic people of Israel. And the little land of Israel has been replaced by a whole world. The Jews are no longer God’s people in any special way, and the land of Israel is like the land of any other country in the world—say, Uganda or Thailand.” -Page 2.

My question is the following: If the particular has no role in the plan of God anymore, then the end result is the same. Is fufillment theology any different than replacement theology or supersessionism?

In the end, I appreciated Martin’s book. But I find two recent works to be more exegetically satisfying. They are  The New Christian Zionism: Fresh Perspectives on Israel and the Land and Gerald R. McDermott’s Israel Matters: Why Christians Must Think Differently about the People and the Land.

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A Look at William Lane Craig’s Comment: “The Ultimate Apologetic is Your Life”

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“More often than not, it is what you are rather than what you say that will bring an unbeliever to Christ. This, then, is the ultimate apologetic. For the ultimate apologetic is: your life”-William Lane Craig

This was a quote that I read when I plowed through the Second Edition of Reasonable Faith in 1998. Ever since I read this quote, I have always thought about how my life might be an apologetic. In other words, do my words and actions reflect the One who is one we represent? To be honest, the quote has convicted me over the years. And without giving a sense of false humility, I know I don’t always live the apologetic life. I even know people who are Christians who have observed other Christians who are very well read in the field of Christian apologetics but note that the lifestyle of the individual doesn’t match up with what they profess with their lips. Just this past week I had the opportunity to teach on The Sermon on the Mount at a local church. Yes, I was convicted about how challenging it is to live out the very characteristics that show the reign of God is here. So anyway, let me go ahead and focus on a couple of areas and ask how we might live the apologetic life:

Two passages that have always challenged me are the following:

“ But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”-Galatians 5: 22-26

”Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” –Ephesians 5: 17-20

If you are like me and love to defend the resurrection of Jesus, you hopefully know thatliving the resurrected life is a challenge. One aspect of resurrection is the how it impacts our present life: We as believers now live in a resurrection state. For after noting that God “made us alive together with” Messiah (this is a past event). Eph. 2:5 says: “by grace you are now in a state of salvation” (indicating a present resurrection state).

When Jesus rose from the dead, He not only reversed the curse of death (1 Cor. 55-56) but also broke the power of sin in this life for us. This doesn’t mean we will be perfect. But it does mean we can have a transformed life and victory over sin in this present life.

The bottom line is that the only way we can possibly appropriate passages like the ones above is to be empowered by the Holy Spirit and depend on the Him every day of our lives. This means we need a good understanding of pneumatology. The Holy Spirit has been described as one who consoles or comforts, one who encourages or uplifts; hence refreshes, and/or one who intercedes on our behalf as an advocate in court. Therefore, you can forget about reflecting our Lord without knowing the ministry of the Holy Spirit. He is your Helper on a daily basis. The question is, “How much does the Spirit have of us?” There is more fullness in our lives that comes from the Spirit’s influence in our lives (Eph. 5:18). We are commanded to be filled with the Spirit. The more yielded we are, hence, a willingness to follow the Spirit (and doing so) produces this filling. Attitudes of unforgiveness, bitterness, and carnal behavior will not reflect the fruit of the Spirit.

So what is the bottom line? When we are controlled by the Spirit of God, people will see the character of Christ in us. They won’t have to beat it out of us. As much as I read and study apologetics, I long to see these traits in me on a daily basis. What about you?

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Answering the Objection “If Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, where’s the peace?”

In a previous post, I discussed some of the common objections anti-missionaries and groups like Jews for Judaism make to the claims about Jesus being the Jewish Messiah of Israel and the nations. 

One objection that always comes up is that if Jesus is really the Messiah, how come there’s no peace in the world?  So one of the traditional objections is that Jesus is not the Messiah since he did not fulfill the job description. One of the Jewish expectations is that 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.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).

So we  are supposed to see the challenge: anti-missionaries can string together some texts in the Jewish Scriptures and then say “Case closed, Jesus is not the Messiah.” Now as I have said before, Israel’s faithfulness and the role of the Messiah go together. Thus, if Israel doesn’t fulfill their side of the covenant, there is a delay in blessings. 

One text anti-missionaries  try to use is Isaiah 11: 6-9:

“The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.  The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.  The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.  They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the land will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:6-9).”

Now, it is obvious this text speaks of some sort of utopia conditions on earth. As Richard Bauckham says here in his online article: 

“Occasionally this passage has been read as an allegory of peace between nations, while inattentive modern readers sometimes see it as a picture simply of peace between animals. In fact, it depicts peace between the human world, with its domestic animals (lamb, kid, calf, bullock, cow), and those wild animals (wolf, leopard, lion, bear, poisonous snakes) that were normally perceived as threats both to human livelihood and to human life. For the Israelite farmer, the unacceptable face of wild nature was these dangerous animals. What is depicted in the prophecy is the reconciliation of the human world with wild nature. Significantly, humans and domestic animals are all represented by their young, the most vulnerable. Each of the pairs of animals in verses 6-7 is carefully chosen, so that each predator is paired with a typical example of that predator’s prey. Especially from verse 7, it is clear that this peaceful condition is possible because the carnivorous animals have become, like the domestic animals, vegetarian. No doubt, this also includes humans. The pairing of the snakes and the children (v 8) differs from the other pairs in that the child is not the prey of the snake, but its poison is nonetheless dangerous to a child who ignorantly interferes with its hiding-place. This is a utopian (or, we might say, ecotopian) picture of the future kingdom of the Messiah that harks back to the primeval utopia that Genesis depicts as the beginning of human history.

Originally, all the creatures of the earth were vegetarian (Gen 1:29- Bauckham Page 3 30), and violence both among humans and between humans and animals came with the degeneration of life on earth that provoked the Flood (Gen 6:11-13). Isaiah’s description of the peaceable kingdom probably also alludes to the human responsibility for other living creatures that God gave humans at creation (Gen 1:26, 28). The first depiction of animals at peace (Isa 11:6) concludes: ‘a little child shall lead them.’ This is a reference to shepherding practice, in which the domestic animals willingly follow the shepherd who leads them to pasture. Even a small child can lead a flock of sheep or herd of goats, because no force or violence is required. In the ecotopia of Isaiah the little child will be able to lead also the wolf, the leopard and the lion. It is a picture of gentle and beneficial service to wild animals, which the animals now willingly receive. It is how we might imagine Adam and Eve related to the animals in the garden of Eden. This is not to say that the messianic kingdom is merely a return to the garden of Eden. It is more than that, but the original innocence of humans and animals does provide a model for the way this prophet envisages the future.”

Anti-missionaries like to say that  in worshiping a deified Messiah/God man, Christians and Messianic Jews are committing idolatry. But the question  is what kind of ordinary, anointed, Davidic King  can usher in such a peaceable kingdom as mentioned here? It seems only a Messiah who is supernatural could do such a thing!

To see more about this objection, see Michael L Brown,  General and Historical Objections 

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Does It Matter Whether God Exists?

 

 

 

lost my ability to give a damn funny quotes

After talking to hundreds of college students for several years about spiritual beliefs, one thing that comes up from time to time, is whether the existence of God is even relevant. In other words, the discussion kind of goes like this: “I don’t see what difference God would make in my life!

The comment “I don’t see what difference God would make in my life!” displays a very pragmatic view of truth. I have discussed the problem with this elsewhere. But when a student says God’s existence isn’t really relevant, my first response is to try to get them back to the issue of truth. After all, if there is a God and He does exist and it turns out Jesus is His Son, that is an objective reality. It has zero to do with how I feel about it. And the truthfulness of it isn’t determined whether the person stays busy and says “I don’t care if God exists.” Another issue that comes up are the following worldview questions:

• Origins: How did it all begin? Where did we come from?
• The Human Condition: What went wrong? What is the source of evil and suffering?
• Redemption: What can we do about it? How can the world be set right again?
• Morality/Human Rights, Human Dignity: What is the basis for morality? In other words, how do we know what is right and wrong? What is the basis for human rights, moral values, moral duties, human dignity, and equality?
• History: What is the meaning of history? Where is history going?
• Death: What happens to a person at death?
• Epistemology: Why is it possible to know anything at all?
• Ontology: What is reality? What is the nature of the external reality around us?
• Purpose: What is man’s purpose in the world

Now after looking at these worldview issues, I think the one that is the question that is the most pressing one is the morality, human rights, and human dignity issue. This issue is directly related  to the the origins question. They can’t be separated. Just recently in the recent presidential debate, the abortion topic came up. That is directly related to one’s view of humans and what makes them valuable. Of course, on a theistic worldview, human aren’t valuable based on their function. They are valuable based on their nature or essence. It is quite obvious we live at a time where people are obsessed with human rights, justice, and equality. I discuss why theism lays the foundation for these features of reality here. 

So in the end, when I run into college students that are apathetic about the existence of God, I now ask them if they think humans are valuable and whether they believe in justice, equality, and human rights. Every single time, the student says “Yes!” So now the door is open to discuss the origins question and how that relates to the human dignity and equality issue. Robert Spizter helps us understand the importance of this topic. He says:

“The best opinion or theory is the one that explains the most data. The general principle is this: opinions that explain the most data and are verified by the most evidence are better than those that do not. The vast majority of people consider this principle to be self-evident because if greater explanatory power and more evidence is not better, then additional evidence and explanatory power add nothing, which means that all evidence and explanatory power are essentially worthless. This leaves us with only our subjective assertions, which most people do not consider to be good enough. For example, as suggested previously, Einstein’s theory about the universe is better than Newton’s theory because it explains more data. (Newton was unaware of most of the data that the special and general theories of relativity account for.) Again, calculus has more explanatory power than algebra and trigonometry because it can account for curves through derivative and integral functions, which algebra and trigonometry cannot do on their own. This applies to virtually every science and social science. The more data a theory or hypothesis explains, the better it is. With respect to life issues, this principle is important because a theory of human personhood that treats a person as a mere individual physical thing (materialism) does not explain the data of persons being self-conscious or having transcendental desires (such as the desire for complete and unconditional Truth, Love, Goodness, Beauty, and Being). Therefore, materialism’s explanation of many acknowledged human powers and activities, such as empathy, agape (self-sacrificial love), self-consciousness, the desire for integrity and virtue, the sense of the spiritual, and the drive for self-transcendence, is, at best, weak. Theories that attempt to account for and explain these data, such as hylomorphism or transmaterialism, should be preferred to ones that do not, such as biological reductionism, materialism, and behaviorism. There is another more serious consequence of the underestimation of human personhood, namely, the undervaluation of real people. If we consider human beings to be mere matter without the self-possession necessary for freedom and love, without unique lovability, or without spiritual or transcendent significance, we might view human beings as mere “things”.
If humans are viewed as mere things, then they can be treated as mere things, and this assumption has led historically to every form of human tragedy. Human beings might be thought of as slaves, cannon fodder, tools for someone else’s well-being, subjects for experimentation, or any number of other indignities and cruelties that have resulted from human “thingification”. The principle of most complete explanation has a well-known corollary, namely, “There are far more errors of omission than commission”, which means that leaving out data is just as harmful to the pursuit of truth as getting the wrong data or making logical errors. This adage is related to the moral saying that “there are far more sins of omission than commission.” In the case of the underestimation of human personhood, history has revealed how close the relationship between errors and sins truly is.”- Ten Universal Principals 
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Who Do You Want To Focus On? Critics, Seekers, or Doubters?

 Cover Art

 

Over the years I have spoken to several people from a variety of backgrounds about the Christian faith. When we started a Ratio Christi apologetics chapter on The Ohio State University in the Fall of 2009, I had been talking to college students about spiritual beliefs for several years. It was during my experience while doing campus outreach that I began to see the need for a stronger apologetics presence on the college campuses. Also, it should be noted that it was a debate between William Lane Craig and skeptic Robert Price in 1998 that really got me interested in apologetics.

Anyway, over the years I have taught classes, given sermons and written articles about the need for apologetics in the Church. Therefore, myself (along with other Christians who are passionate about apologetics), generally have to take some flack about apologetics. Even though apologetics is seen throughout the Bible, we are sometimes seen as exalting reason to a place that was never intended or we assume apologetics is the sole catalyst as someone’s conversion. I bring this all up because I am presently enjoying reading Introducing Apologetics: Cultivating Christian Commitment by James Taylor. Taylor lists three kinds of people who we will encounter when doing evangelism. If anything, if we do evangelism and encounter people in these categories, we should see why we need apologetics in the Church. Taylor says when dealing with people, many people may fall into various categories such as:

1. Critics: those with criticisms of the Christian faith who are not open to the possibility of its truth. Critics need to be answered to neutralize the effects of their criticisms on seekers and doubters.

 

2. Seekers: people who are open to our faith but are prevented from making a commitment primarily because of honest questions about the Christian claims.

 

3. Doubters: are Christians who find it difficult to believe one or more tenants of the Christian faith with complete confidence. Doubters need to be restored to full Christian conviction by giving them the tools to remove their doubts.

In own experience, I run into a lot of #1′s.

First, both have issues of confirmation bias. If someone is a critic (see above), and says that God must not exist or that miracles are not possible, in many cases they will seek out evidence that confirms their hypothesis, and dismiss evidence that might challenge or overturn their position.  Likewise, if someone presupposes that God does exist, they will seek evidence to support such a claim as well.

I don’t want to give the impression that this means there is no objectivity involved here. But in many cases, the bias and starting points are the same. Both parties are looking for evidence for their position and they cite books and articles to back up their points. Also, both sides can tend to dismiss each other when they cite an authority on some given topic because the authority doesn’t share the same worldview or position on the topic.

A small example is needed here: go to any atheist website and you will see the same list for the Jesus mysticism position (e.g, Robert Price, Richard Carrier, Dan Barker, Earl Doherty, etc). When Bart Ehrman came out with his book on the existence of Jesus, this list of mythers and their followers trashed it because it challenged instead of confirming their position on mythicism.

Some critics say they used to be a Christian or a former Christian apologist and they now have a life calling to tell the entire world how bad Christianity is for the world. Now I don’t have the time to go into the complexities of why these people got to where they are. I don’t see the purpose behind atheist apologetics. But my point is that there are a lot of critics and it is these critics that tend to be quite evangelistic.

I also see #2′s and maybe some #3′s. I have seen people who are truly open to the claims of the Christian faith but need some of their questions answered. There are testimonies of people that have come to Christ through apologetic works. Lee Strobel, William Lane Craig and other apologist can testify of many, many, people who have been impacted by their apologetic contributions.

As far as doubters, I am convinced there are doubters all over the Church. But since the Church is not equipped to handle many forms of doubt (whether it be factual, emotional, or psychological), Christians can end up suppressing their doubts or questions. This is unhealthy and can thwart a full commitment to the Christian faith. If anything, some basics of apologetics could help these people. I have run into several college students that had doubts all throughout their youth but never got a handle on it before college. This is one reason why they tend to become agnostics or atheists during their college experience.

What’s the Point? 

Life is short. Who do you want to focus on reaching? Obviously, God loves critics, seekers, and doubters. He loves all people. But critics can end up taking  alot of time. Don’t get me wrong: they need to be responded to. But some of us may leave that to those who have the time to write the books and do the large debates. Many of us are dealing the average person in our workplace or neighborhood.

The reality is that if any Christian wants do obey the commands of Jesus and make disciples (Matt. 28:19), they will encounter critics, seekers, and doubters. But my question is how can we expect any Christian to be prepared to engage critics, seekers, and doubters without some basic apologetic training? If this stirs your heart, then I suggest trying to start an apologetics ministry in your church. To see how you might go about it, see the clip here with William Lane Craig. God Bless!

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Why the Truth Question Still Matters

C. S. Lewis emphasized in his essay on Christian apologetics that “one of the great difficulties [in sharing the Gospel] is to keep before the audience’s mind the question of Truth. They always think you are recommending Christianity not because it is true but because it is good. And in the discussion they will at every moment try to escape from the issue ‘True or False’ into stuff about the Spanish Inquisition [or the Crusades]… or anything whatever. You have to keep forcing them back… to the real point. Only thus will you be able to undermine… their belief that a certain amount of ‘religion’ is desirable but one mustn’t carry it too far. One must keep on pointing out that Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance.”-[C. S. Lewis, “Christian Apologetics,” in Walter Hooper, ed., God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970) p. 101.]

Do you know how important truth is to your daily existence? Think about it for a minute:

You rely on truth every day of your life! For example:

  1. You rely on your people to tell you the truth every day. If they tell you the bus arrives at 6:30 and it really arrived at 6:10, you probably will miss the bus.
  2. You rely on your teachers to tell you the truth. If they tell you that you will have a quiz on chapter 2, but you arrive the next day to find out that the quiz is on chapter 4, you may flunk the test. Whether it was a lie or a mistake, you really needed the truth.
  3. People rely on banks to be truthful about how much money they have.
  4. When we buy a car, a computer, or a phone, we rely on those that sell us these items to be truthful with us about whether it works or not.
  5. We attempt to rely on politicians to tell us the truth about what policies they want to have Congress pass so that our country will be a better place to live.

“Is it arrogant to say I think what I believe is true?”

In a culture that is highly divisive, polarized, and pluralistic, many professing Jesus followers have opted for an ultra-humble approach to truth which means they think it is offensive or divisive to proclaim that Jesus  as the only possible Savior for humanity (Matthew 11:27; John 1:18; 3:36; 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 John 1: 5:11-12). We need to remember we are called to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15).

What Does the Bible Say About Truth?

True and False Doctrine: The core of our doctrine is what Jesus taught to and through his apostles. Remember that the truth that sets us free (John 8:31-32; Acts 2:42). Although God does not expect us to attain perfect understanding of this truth, he does expect us to understand sound doctrine—so we live as fruitful and discerning talmidim of Jesus (1 Tim. 4:6; 6:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1).

True and False Spirits: We need to remember the following verse: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus the Messiah has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus  is not from God” (1 John 4:1-2). Jesussaid the Ruach Ha Kodesh would be another “Parakletos” or “Advocate” (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7), who testifies to the truth about Jesus (John 16:13-14). The Bible gives us two ways to test spirits to see whether they are from God. The first is to ask whether the spirits teach the truth about Jesus (1 John 4:1-6). Also, any message about the Good News that presents a different message than the message that the Messiah himself gave through Paul and the other apostles is a false message or a false gospel (Gal. 1:6; see 2 Cor. 11:4).

Remember: God does expect his children to grow in the exercise of discernment—recognizing the difference between truth and error (1 Thess. 5:21-22). Also, one aspect of spiritual maturity is that we are more skilled in our discernment (Heb. 5:14).

The Difference Between Objective and Subjective Truth

Now when it comes to spiritual beliefs, people might say “Well, if you think it is true, that’s good for you. But it is not my truth.” Therefore, we need to explain the difference between ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ truth.  You rely on objective truth every day. Objective truth is something that’s not based on your feelings, emotions, or preferences. It is something that is true whether you believe it or not.

Let’s give some examples:

  1. “Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, and George Washington was our first president.”
  2. “Donald Trump is our current president.”

These statements are objectively true. It has nothing to do with how you feel about it. These are ‘facts’ of history.

Subjective truth is based on your personal preference or feelings. You might say, “Chocolate ice cream is the best ice cream in the world.” This is all based on our personal likes.

All religions claim to teach the truth. And since they all contradict each other at some level, they can’t all be true.  Thus, while it is true they may have similar view of morality and how to treat our fellow man, at their very core, they all can’t be true.

Something else that needs to be remembered: “Truth is not just what works.” Some people may say to us the following: “If believing in the Messiah works for you and makes a difference in your life, that’s all that matters.” We already discussed the shortcomings of this approach in our introduction.

Therefore, when it comes to truth, we need to ask if it is based in reality. Thus, if we say God exists and the Messiah is the Son of God, the first question is not whether this “works” for the person and makes a difference. The first question is whether it is based in reality. NOTE: To see whether or not our beliefs are based in reality, see our chart on God’s existence.

Think about this! The God of the Bible cares about truth. God’s truth must be learned (meditated upon (Psalm 119) and defended (1 Peter 3:15-17; Jude 3).

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