Is God’s Existence Known Inferentially or Directly?

When it comes to God’s existence, one common approach to this issue is to utilize what is called the inference to the best explanation model which  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? An inference is an idea or conclusion that’s drawn from evidence and reasoning or an inference can be an educated guess. But also remember that inferences can be based on observation and background knowledgeRemember, when we look at the questions above, if you are committed to philosophical naturalism (the idea that nothing exists outside the natural realm of the material universe), you’ll find a way to interpret every piece of data to confirm your naturalistic presuppositions, even if the best inference from evidence points to something else. Of course, nobody directly knows past historical events. Much of it is inferential as well.

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

When it comes to making inferences and saying God is the best inference,  skeptics generally cry “God of the Gaps.” See more about the abuse of that fallacy here. 

In contrast to the inference to to the best explanation model, philosopher Alvin Plantinga  concludes that “there is a kind of faculty or cognitive mechanism, what Calvin calls sensus divinitatis or a sense of divinity, which in a wide variety of circumstances produces in us beliefs about God.” So in the same way that perceptual beliefs such as “I see a table” are non-inferential and properly basic, belief in God, when occasioned by the appropriate circumstances (such as one feeling a sense of guilt, dependence, beauty, and so forth), can also be properly basic because of the cognitive working of the sensus divinitatis.  Obviously, pepole can have perpetual or introspective l beliefs that aren’t inferred from anything else (ex. “I see a tree,” or, “I feel pain.”).  Apologists and philosophers are not fully convinced Plantinga’s model is successful.

I would say it doesn’t have to be an  either/or issue. People to come to think God exists through a variety of ways.

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What’s the Difference Between the Resurrection of Lazarus and the Resurrection of Jesus?

When it comes to the Christian faith, one of the most important doctrines is the resurrection of the dead/the resurrection of Jesus. Biblical faith is not simply centered in ethical and religious teachings. Instead, it is founded on the person and work of Jesus. From a soteriological perspective, if Jesus was not raised from the dead, we as His followers are still dead in our sins (1Cor.15:7). Jesus said in John 11:25, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me shall live even of he dies.” Jesus could not have made full atonement for our sins without the resurrection. Also, through the resurrection, Jesus took on the role as advocate and intercessor (1 John. 2:2; Rom. 8:34). His resurrection also guaranteed us the opportunity of having a resurrected body’s like His (1 Cor.15:20-23, 51-53; 1 Pet.1:3; Phil. 3:20-21; John. 5:25-29).

An important aspect of possessing eternal life is the ability to raise the dead. The Jewish people knew the God of Israel as the only one who could raise the dead (Job 19:26; Ps. 17:15; 49:15; 73:24; Is. 26:19; 53:10; Dn. 12:2;12:13).Therefore, by claiming the authority to raise the dead, Jesus was exemplifying both the same actions and attributes of the God Israel. The resurrection also marked Jesus as the one who will be the judge all men (Acts 17:31).

The Difference between Resuscitation and Resurrection

The Greek word for resurrection is “anatasis” which means “a raising up” or “rising.” I think the key is to differentiate between a resuscitation and a resurrection. There are resuscitations in the Tanakh (the Old Testament) such as the example of Elijah and Elisha raising a person from death (1 Kings 17-23; 2 Kings 4:34-35).

Likewise, there are three resuscitations in the Gospels (Lk. 8:49-56; Jn. 11:38-44; Lk. 7:11-15). So if look at the life of Lazarus it seems like he was resurrected. He was “raised up.” However, Lazarus went on to live on in his old mode and still had to face a second death. Hence, Lazarus and these other accounts are similar to the raising of the dead as already mentioned in the examples of Elijah and Elisha raising a person from death (1 Kings 17-23; 2 Kings 4:34-35).

As far as Jesus, he was not only but resurrected, he was changed. His body was transformed into what Paul calls a glorified body. He never died again. Therefore, one way to approach this is to say Jesus is not the only one in human history that has been raised from the dead (if we call it resuscitation). However, He is the only one who has been raised immortal!

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“Is there growing evidence that humans are hard-wired to detect agency?”

Can a Scientist Believe in Miracles?: An MIT Professor Answers Questions on God and Science (Veritas Books) by [Hutchinson, Ian]

Here, Ian Hutchinson answers the question as to  if there is  growing evidence that humans are hard-wired to detect agency, does this  mean that  religion is less plausible and should be  pushed  into the shadows? Hutchinson says: 

“When it is said that humans are hard-wired to detect agency, what is meant is that we have well-tuned mental and physiological abilities to perceive agents, such as animals and other humans. Does this ability render religion less plausible? The antitheistic argument is approximately that the ability is “overactive,” that we have a built-in tendency to detect agency even when it is not there. And that, it is said, explains religion, ghosts, demons, and other superstitions: we are detecting agents that aren’t there because our agency-detecting circuits are overactive. An evolutionary advantage is conveyed by agency-detecting ability, since it helps us (and many other animals) find prey and avoid predators. However these arguments are not science and affect the plausibility of theism hardly at all.

First, it is completely obvious, regardless of any modern research, that we possess strong and sensitive agency-detecting abilities. The most elementary observation of an infant can persuade anyone of that. Casual observation also reveals humans’ tendency toward anthropomorphism: attributing quasi-human attributes (especially agency) to nonhuman entities. Skeptics have for centuries taken the anthropomorphic language of most religious expression to indicate that religion is nothing but anthropomorphism. Science adds little to that presumption.

Second, there is to my knowledge no demonstration, experimental or otherwise, or persuasive argument that the agency-detecting ability is systematically overactive. In fact, if evolution is responsible for it, one would expect it to be active to just about the optimal degree: not too much, not too little, so as to make our survival chances about the best they can be. And that seems to be roughly true by inspection. Certainly our agency detection is imperfect and subject to errors. Sometimes we detect an agent when one is not there; we see what we take to be a sheep when it is really a rock. Sometimes we fail to detect an agent that really is present, and it surprises us, maybe bites us! But that is insufficient for a demonstration that it is overactive. It is (so far as I can see) just as often underactive. I’d say we might be detecting God when he is not there, or we might be not detecting God when he is there.

What is at work, then, when evolutionary psychology “explains” an aspect of religion is a scientistic attempt to explain away a higher-level perception by offering a scientific-sounding alternative explanation. The presumption is that reductionist scientific explanations are always preferable and supersede other types of explanation. However, once you concede that our agency-detecting ability is actually very good at detecting agents, it is just as plausible to say that a God who wants us to “detect” him as agent (because he wants us to have a personal relationship with him) arranges to make agent-detection capability a part of our standard mental equipment. If evolution is some (or even most) of how he did that, it changes nothing. It simply reaffirms what we knew already: that the ability is natural. We do not say that our having a hard-wired ability to detect agents renders our friends less plausible; why would it do so to God?”

— Ian Hutchinson, Can a Scientist Believe in Miracles: An MIT Professor Answers Questions on God and Science (IVP Books, 2018), 90-91.

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Three Possible Models for Cultural Engagement

Given the current cultural climate, I have noticed that Christians are still struggling to figure out how to exactly engage the culture around them. In other words, should a Christian care about governmental laws? Should they be involved with politics? Should they be trying to impact legislation? Should Christians just pray and let God fight the battles around them? As for myself,  I have invested plenty of time trying to engage the university. Allow me to go ahead and expand on this topic with three models for cultural engagement:

1. The Withdrawal Model: In this model, many Christians are just so disgusted with the evil in the culture that they have decided to separate from it completely. When I say ‘separate’  I mean that these Christians only socialize with other Christians and generally won’t engage the dangerous places like universities. Thus, they tend to always expect non Christians to behave like Christians and  are convinced America will eventually return to its Christian foundations.

Let me tell a quick story: I once participated in an Interfaith panel on a university campus (e.g, we had a Muslim, a Jewish rabbi, a Buddhist, along with myself). Sadly, one of my Christian friends rebuked me for participating in such as event. Hence, he said I should never sit on a panel with people who were from different faiths. When I challenged him on being salt and light (Matt. 5: 13-14) and that we need to engage the dark areas of our culture, he only got more defensive.  In many cases people who adhere to the withdrawal model forget that judgment comes to the household of God first (1 Pet. 4: 16-17). We can’t keep expecting non Christians to adhere to our values and beliefs. This ends up making the Gospel into the moral Gospel rather than a supernatural message. I often think of a statement made by well-known Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias. Ravi says, “Jesus did not come to make bad people good, but dead people alive.”

2. The Culture Changes Us: In this model, Christians desperately want to be popular and relevant. So in response, they end up becoming so much like the culture  that there is very little difference between them and the people they surround themselves with. This model won’t work because it it can’t be justified by the Bible. Jesus calls his disciples to be “salt and light” (Matt 5:13-14). Also, as Paul says,

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”- Romans 12: 1-2

I see the biggest drawback of this model is that Christians tend to forget they don’t answer to the culture. Instead, they answer to the Lord for what they say and teach in the public square (1 Cor 3: 10-15).

3. The Counter-Cultural Model:  This is the model that matches up with the Bible. In this model, Christians don’t withdrawal nor are they  absorbed by the culture. Instead, they aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty and are willing to go into the dark places. For myself, even though I do think the state of the world will get darker and perhaps wickedness may abound, I will work hard to be an agent of truth, light, justice, and love.

Golgotha

 

“And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. “- Luke 9: 23

The cross may be viewed as a symbol of love. But when we look at the first century context, it is clear that to a Jewish person the cross was not a badge of honor but instead a sign of rejection and embarrassment. When the disciples heard Jesus talk about the cross and self denial here, they knew to make Jesus the Lord of their lives was going to be a life of  commitment and abandonment of autonomy.

To live counter-culturally means to be willing to be open to shame, embarrassment, and misunderstanding. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said,  ‘Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.’  While it is true that Christians can’t demand that secular culture reflect biblical principles, we as followers of our Lord are called to speak up against evil.

I hope these models provoke some  further thought

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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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