Posts Tagged ‘William Lane Craig’

What the Trinity says about God’s loving nature

July 28, 2017

The New City Catechism Devotional continues to bless me. I’m writing down these words about the Trinity from Kevin DeYoung mostly so I can quickly refer to them the next time I teach confirmation class.

The doctrine of the Trinity is the most important Christian doctrine that most people never think about. It’s absolutely essential to our faith, and yet for many Christians it just seems like a very confusing math problem. And even if we can figure out what Trinity means, it doesn’t feel like it has much bearing on our lives, much relevance to us.

The word Trinity, famously, is not found in the Bible, but the word does very well at capturing a number of biblical truths. There are actually seven statements that go into the doctrine of the Trinity:

  1. God is one. There’s only one God.
  2. The Father is God.
  3. The Son is God.
  4. The Holy Spirit is God.
  5. The Father is not the Son.
  6. The Son is not the Spirit.
  7. The Spirit is not the Father.

If you get those seven statements, then you’ve captured the doctrine of the Trinity—what it means when we say there is one God and three persons.[1]

Is that clear to you? Would this communicate with 12-and 13-year-olds in confirmation class?

Incidentally, as I’ve mentioned before, I like the ministry of Christian apologist and philosopher William Lane Craig, who frequently debates world-renown atheists. One of his arguments for God’s existence is the “moral argument”: in a nutshell, the fact that objective moral values and duties exist means that God exists. If there are laws, there must be a law-giver. If there’s no law-giver, then no matter how strongly we “feel” that something is wrong, what we feel is the result of blind, undirected physical forces: to say something is “wrong” is merely to assert one’s personal taste. (For more on this, see this old post.)

But this raises a potential problem, as many of Craig’s opponents point out: Are these objective moral values and duties good because God says they’re good? Or is their goodness based on a standard external to God himself?

Do you see the problem? If we say “because God says so,” that seems arbitrary.

On the other hand, if the standard by which we measure goodness is external to God himself, then God is unrelated to this standard, and the moral argument goes out the window. (In philosophical circles, this problem is often called “the Euthyphro dilemma,” which was raised by Socrates himself.)

Craig would call this a false choice and say something like this: We can be confident that what God commands is good not simply because he says so, but because what God “says” is rooted in his divine nature, which is only good and loving. You can easily Google his argument, and let Craig speak for himself!

Regardless, the Trinity shows how this is true: God, in his very nature, is a loving relationship of three Persons. From eternity past, this relationship, at the center of God’s nature, demonstrates true love, which is the foundation of objective moral values and duties.

Not that DeYoung was addressing the “moral argument” when he wrote the following, but I find it helpful to this discussion:

“[W]hen you have a triune God, you have the eternality of love. Love has existed from all time. If you have a god who is not three persons, he has to create a being to love, to be an expression of his love. But Father, Son, and Holy Spirit existing in eternity have always had this relationship of love. So love is not a created thing. God didn’t have to go outside of himself to love. Love is eternal. And when you have a triune God, you have fully this God who is love.[2]

God did not have to go outside of himself to love. To be a loving god, a non-Trinitarian god would have to first create someone or something to love.

Not so the God of Christianity. He is loving by nature, in and of himself, such that the apostle John can say, “God is love.”

Therefore, God does not have to “go outside of himself” to find a standard to measure the goodness of God’s commands. What God commands is good because it springs from this loving nature.

1. The New City Catechism Devotional (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 26.

2. Ibid., 27.

“Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him”

January 18, 2017

unbelievable_banner

A recent episode of the Unbelievable? radio program (and podcast), “How I Lost My Child but Kept My Faith,” featured Jessica Kelley, who describes the heartbreaking experience of losing her 4-year-old son to brain cancer. To cope with her son’s suffering, she adopted what’s often called a “warfare” view of human suffering, influenced by pastor and theologian Greg Boyd. As best I can tell, it’s a form of “open theism,” which limits the extent to which God knows the future and his power to change circumstances in our world.

Open theism is such a non-starter for me, on biblical grounds, I haven’t investigated it deeply: I’m not sure if Boyd would say that God limits his foreknowledge (if that were possible) or that God can’t know the future with certainty. Boyd’s concern, I think, is his mistaken belief that if God knows the future infallibly, this knowledge therefore determines it, thereby overriding human free will. I’ve heard him say that God can only know (whether by choice or by necessity) probabilities of events occurring—given every antecedent event happening at any given moment.

This seems crazy to me. Even fallible human parents can often know, with a high degree of certainty, what their child will do under a certain set of circumstances. Yet God can’t?

Besides, God’s foreknowledge does not determine. As William Lane Craig, among other apologists, has argued, while God’s knowledge of future events is chronologically prior to the events happening (obviously), it is logically subsequent to these events happening: God “sees” humans and other free agents (including angels and demons) making choices, and “what God sees” becomes the basis of his foreknowledge. God can intervene to change future outcomes as he sees fit without running roughshod over free will.

In other words, God factored in the free choices of human and angelic beings (including, in the case of humans, our prayers) when he created the world. He factored in the sin, evil, and suffering that would often result from these free choices. He factored in our human need for discipline and punishment. And he factored in the need for our world to be governed, as a rule, by stable physical forces. Whatever else God factored into this world that he created, he did so according to his good purposes and for his glory.

Therefore, having done so, we can be confident that what God causes or allows to happen right now is in accordance with his will: even—and I say this with fear and trembling—a 4-year-old dying of brain cancer. (I’ve written at length about the difference between God’s antecedent and consequent will, which might prove helpful. Click here for more.)

I find the doctrine of God’s sovereignty immensely comforting. But if you don’t, what’s the alternative? One Unbelievable? listener, “Wallace in Charleston,” puts it like this:

One question I would have liked to have asked Jessica, especially when she spoke of Jesus’ miracles of healing, is whether she believed God had the power to heal her son? Given her theological comments, it seems she would have had to answer no—”God didn’t have the power, because of these other wills and forces in the universe that, at least in my son’s case, were stronger than God’s.”

But think about the devastating implications of such an admission for Christian hope. How can I trust that a God who was powerless to heal my child will someday have enough power to raise him from the dead? How could such a God could ever accrue enough power to raise all the dead and create a new heaven and a new earth?…

I can sympathize with how Greg Boyd’s theology has appeared comforting to Jessica as she watched little Henry die, but I’m afraid that comfort comes at too high a price and has implications that are not comforting at all. Better to own the sovereign hand of God and say with Job, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.”

Another listener, “Tim from Saskatchewan,” emphasized that we believe in God’s sovereignty because of scripture.

[Jessica] stated that most Christians start with the assumption that God is sovereign. But through her experience, she’s come to understand that God is not fully in control, but works on the side of good. She quotes John 10:10 to defend her position, which says Jesus came to bring life.

The issue I have is that Christians don’t assume God is sovereign: the Bible states it explicitly. Jesus didn’t come to make alive people feel better; he came that dead people may receive life. It’s impossible to read John 6 and not think that the Bible is clear that God is in full control of everything. Isaiah 46:10 says, “My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure.” The fact that Christ was slain before the foundation of the world [Rev. 13:8] shows that the immeasurably horrible suffering of the cross was part of God’s plan. He didn’t do the best he could; he did exactly as he planned.

I would only add that our belief in sovereignty is based on much more than John 6.

Please don’t misunderstand me: I like Jessica. I’m sympathetic with her. And I find her story deeply moving. I also agree that Satan and his evil forces are at work in our world, opposing God’s people and the work of God’s kingdom—possibly even causing the evil of brain cancer. By all means!

But if I were Justin Brierley, I would have asked her: Does God have the power to prevent Satan from causing this harm? If her answer is yes—and how could it not be if God has the power to create the universe and everything in it, including Satan himself—then the difference between God’s causing and God’s allowing the disease, while important, isn’t as great as it first appears. Her version of open theism hardly solves the “problem” of evil.

Wesley’s Revision of The Shorter Catechism, Part 3: How do we “enjoy God”?

November 17, 2016

jwc_the_shorter_catechism_front_cvr_smTo refresh your memory, the first article of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which Wesley endorsed without revision, is the following:

Question 1. What is the chief end of man?

Answer. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

A couple of years ago, on William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith podcast, Dr. Craig described a sermon he had recently heard, which attacked the commonplace idea that love is more “decision” than feeling:

I attended Grace Evangelical Free Church in La Mirada. One of the pastors there is Erik Thoennes who is a Professor of Theology at Biola University. He is a very insightful theologian and a wise man. His text for his sermon was Hebrews 13:1, “Let brotherly love continue.” He gave a whole sermon on just those few words. The sermon was just filled with all sorts of nuggets of wisdom that I found very provocative and helpful. One of them was his criticism of the view that love doesn’t involve emotions. One will very frequently hear it said that love is not a feeling, love is a decision. This will often be said in marriage counseling situations, for example, where you may not feel love for your spouse anymore but you make a decision, “I will love her” (or “him”) and we will work through this problem.

Kevin Harris: Make a commitment.

Dr. Craig: Or with someone else that is particularly disagreeable – a boss or family member or even perhaps a persecutor. It is very often said that when we are commanded to love others – even love our enemy – that this is a decision. It is not some sort of emotional feeling. Thoennes was disagreeing with that, which has become I think sort of the conventional wisdom. He said this can lead to the attitude, “Well, I have to love you but I don’t have to like you.” So, you can regard other people in such a way that you don’t really have any affection or feeling for them, but you treat them in a loving way. He said that’s true – that with many people, we never can get past that point in our lives. There will be people for whom we never have the chance to really build an emotional bond of affection.

Kevin Harris: But we love them anyway.

Dr. Craig: Yes, we treat them in loving ways. We make a decision to act in a loving way toward them whether we have those feelings or not. And he recognized that. But he said if you think that that is all that love is – that that is the end goal of love – then he says you have fallen short. He says a full and mature love will involve a genuine affection for the other person. This is a reflection of the way that God loves us. He said that he’s afraid that many people may think of God’s love for them as a love that is without affection. They think, “Well, God loves me but he doesn’t really like me.” When you think of what that would do in your relationship to God, I think you can imagine how debilitating that would be if you think that God really doesn’t like you as a person. But he sort of tolerates you and loves you because he has to. It is almost as though if love were not an essential property of God, if he were freed from the necessity of loving you, then he really wouldn’t love you if he didn’t have to. Read the rest of this entry »

What Christian isn’t a creationist?

February 25, 2016

O.K., my headline is slightly tongue-in-cheek. I’m well aware that “creationist” is a technical term that means not simply that God designed and created the world in which we live, but that he did so in a way that is consistent with a particular interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2.

I almost wrote “he did so in a way that is consistent with Genesis 1 and 2.” But if I put it that way, then that would make me a creationist, and I don’t want to be one of those! I might be lumped in with the Ken Hams of the world. Never mind that Ken Ham knows a lot more about biology than I do (and nearly any other Methodist minister who shuns the label “creationist”), having learned everything I know from a ninth-grade textbook I only half-understood at the time. But if I reject Ken Ham then I’ll be one of those “respectable” kinds of Christians—wink, wink—who “knows better” than to take the Bible’s creation account seriously—and who is “smarter” than those bumpkins who call themselves creationists.

I bring this up on the heels of yesterday’s post because of a controversy surrounding Dan Walker, a popular television host with the BBC, who came out last week as—gasp!—a creationist! His condemnation in the news media was swift and severe. How can he be trusted to read news off a tele-prompter if he holds these beliefs?

Even many Christian op-ed writers were alarmed: “We’re Christians,” they assured the public, “but not that kind of Christian.”

Nevertheless, David Robertson, who frequently appears on the excellent Unbelievable! radio show and podcast, leapt to Walker’s defense with this opinion piece:

This may come as a shock to the British journalistic community but those who believe in God tend to believe that he created everything. The question – which apparently they have neither the intelligence or the courtesy to ask – is what kind of creationist is Mr Walker? There are Christians who are theistic evolutionist creationists, old earth creationists and young earth creationists. On the basis of one statement from a spokesperson, many journalists made the assumption that it was the latter that was being spoken of.

And why is this news at all? Who cares? He is a TV presenter! The only people who care are those who want to introduce American style culture wars into the UK, and who view creationism as a bogeyman which enables them to vent their anti-religious prejudice and feel self-righteous while doing so.

For the record, I am a creationist. I believe that creation happened according to Genesis 1 and 2. To believe otherwise undermines one’s belief in the authority of scripture—including the credibility of Christ’s own words. As for how it happened, I’m somewhat agnostic on the question: I would say that there are a number of faithful ways in which we can interpret Genesis 1-2. But people who are more literalistic on the question than I am are not my enemies, and I am not morally superior to them. In fact, I don’t disagree with Archbishop Cranmer, when he says the following (in response to the Dan Walker controversy):

Beyond scientific doubt, the earth is many millions of years old. Radiocarbon (and -uranium and -potassium) dating tells us that Bishop Ussher was wrong: the earth was not created in 4004BC. But don’t some creationists hold to the Apparent Age theory? Adam was created on the sixth day. On the seventh day, how old was Adam? 33 years or just one day? Forget whether he had a navel or not, you see the point: God reveals Himself through His created universe in very many and mysterious ways. It may offend against common sense, but the God who can raise a man from the dead is perfectly capable of creating trees with rings in them.

William Lane Craig does an outstanding job assessing various biblically faithful alternatives to interpreting Genesis 1-2 in this series (21 episodes!) of podcasts: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/defenders-2-podcast/s9

New atheists’ remarkably candid denial of free will

December 22, 2015

On their Reasonable Faith podcast for the past several weeks, William Lane Craig and Kevin Harris have been discussing a recent dialogue between “new atheists” Jerry Coyne and Sam Harris. In this fifth installment, Craig and Kevin Harris tackle the new atheists’ discussion of free will—specifically their denial of free will. Free will is an illusion, they say, and moral responsibility doesn’t exist.

Not only do Coyne and Sam Harris deny free will, they express frustration with fellow “free thinkers” (there’s an oxymoron!) who try to salvage free will through “compatibilism.” From what I know of compatibilism, I actually agree with Coyne that it’s a “semantic game.”

To understand why they and many other atheists deny something which is obviously true to all human beings—that we have minds capable of making choices—let’s consider the following: From a materialistic perspective, what we experience as our “mind” is merely the projection of unthinking, unguided physical processes of cause-and-effect, which take place within the brain. At every moment the brain is “creating” the mind—including the inescapable sense that we are free agents making choices. The created thing (the mind) can’t, in turn, “create” its creator. That would be like asking a movie actor to act independently of the film that is projecting his image on a theater screen.

If a mind had the power to exert such an influence back onto the brain—and thereby control one’s thoughts and actions—then we would be conceding that there is at least one purely non-physical substance in the universe. And if you concede that, you may as well concede that there’s a God, too!

Regardless, if you listen to this Reasonable Faith podcast, you’ll notice how Coyne and Harris repeatedly contradict their assertion that free will is an illusion. They say that while no criminal is morally responsible for his actions, we can still have prisons and punishments for criminals because these things influence and deter bad behavior.

Fine, but whether we have prisons and punishments or not isn’t up to us: it’s up to unthinking, unguided processes over which “I,” along with Coyne and Harris, have no control. The very idea, “We should have prisons and punishments for criminals,” for example, isn’t something I’ve chosen to believe; it’s merely happened to me, along with all my other beliefs, thoughts, and choices.

Near the end of the podcast, we hear Coyne and Harris talk about understanding the reasons that they have certain desires (“I want a steak.”) and not others. Harris says that he can’t ultimately say why he wants a steak. Coyne disagrees: he says we can analyze the stimuli that have influenced our desire for a steak—for example, I saw a commercial for a steak, and that produced the desire within me. Harris then seems to agree.

But if they’re right about our ability to “analyze,” then they’re wrong about free will: because whether or not we perform such analysis isn’t something we do; it’s something that’s done to us.

As Craig says, “There does seem to be that so-called transcendental ego that is never fully objectified, that stands above the train of experiences and surveys them and judges them.”

Of course!

And in my view this is a serious problem with atheistic materialism. The atheist says, “We can account for all of reality without resorting to anything beyond the physical” (which is itself metaphysical claim but never mind that for now). But the atheist obviously can’t. Because he can’t account for something that, as I suggested earlier, literally every person of sound mind who’s ever lived experiences: that we have a mind that stands over and above our bodies, which directs it to some extent.

File under “ontological argument for God’s existence”

November 24, 2015

We discussed St. Anselm’s ontological argument for God’s existence way back in Philosophy 1001 at the Georgia Institute of Technology 25 years ago. The argument has proven to be surprisingly resilient—and even my prof expressed admiration for it. At the same time, like most people, I fear that we’re playing with words more than saying anything about God.

Nevertheless, Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga updated it recently. I’m posting it here not because I necessarily buy into it, but because I want to remember what it is, and this puts it rather plainly.

Premise #4 is the trickiest for me, but, as Wilson says, it follows from the meaning of “necessary.” Christian theology teaches that God is a necessary, rather than contingent, being; he doesn’t depend on anything else for his existence. You can substitute “maximally great being” for “necessary divine being.”

Anyway, for what it’s worth… From Andrew Wilson:

Here’s a quick, and surprisingly robust, argument for the existence of God. It amounts to a late twentieth century Plantingan rehash of Anselm’s ontological argument, and it goes like this:

1. It is possible that a necessary divine being exists.
2. If a being possibly exists, then it exists in some possible world.
3. Therefore a necessary divine being exists in some possible world (from #1, #2).
4. If a necessary being exists in some possible world, then it exists in all possible worlds.
5. Therefore a necessary divine being exists in all possible worlds (from #3, #4).
6. Therefore a necessary divine being exists (from #5).

The conclusion obviously follows from the premises, so the only question is whether the premises are probably correct. Both #2 and #4, in effect, are simply ways of stating what the words “possible” and “necessary” actually mean, and as such are not as controversial as they might appear. So the real debate is over #1 – but this, to most people, sounds intuitively correct. I’m not saying it will compel people to repent of their sins and follow Jesus, but it’s a good one to pull out at parties, isn’t it? (Presumably it depends on the parties.)

Is apologetics a four-letter word?

August 19, 2015

When did I become such a “fundamentalist”? 😉

I was hanging out on a relatively conservative, evangelical-friendly Facebook page for United Methodists. Someone asked us what additional classes should seminaries offer that they’re not currently offering—or at least requiring. I said that we should be required to take a course in apologetics. To which a fellow clergy said the following:

Apologetics is a fundamentally flawed discourse, that too easily reduces the faith to the lowest common denominator under the guise of defending it. The faith doesn’t need defending, it needs proclamation.

Another pastor agreed, saying that intellectual objections are merely a smokescreen for an inward, “heart”-related problem. Presumably, once we deal with the underlying spiritual or emotional problem, the intellectual problems take care of themselves. Besides, he said, no one comes to faith through logic or reason.

While I agree that no one comes to faith through logic or reason alone—apart from the revelatory work of the Holy Spirit—Christianity is a rational religion. How could reason and logic not play an important role in evangelism? Otherwise, why bother with language at all? We may as well speak in tongues to unbelievers. (Actually, the apostle Paul has something to say about that very problem in 1 Corinthians 14!)

Besides, the concern is not merely with unbelievers, as I said in this comment thread: What about the intellectual doubts of the already converted? After all, nearly every day we pastors have to be able to reconcile our world of suffering and pain with our proclamation that God is good—that God really does love us. If we pastors haven’t worked that question out, intellectually, we’re doomed! And having read testimonies from pastors who lose their faith, I know that theodicy is Reason No. 1.

It won’t do to say, as mainline Protestant seminary often teaches us to say, “It’s all a mystery.”

I continued:

Or what about the intellectual doubts of young Christians going off to college and being exposed for the first time to ideas that directly contradict what they’ve learned in church? That happens all the time. Are we not supposed to equip young Christians to handle these questions?

Because they constantly hear things such as: Jesus never existed; the resurrection motif was borrowed from other myths and legends; the resurrection was a legendary development that happened over decades; Paul “invented” Christianity by distorting or ignoring the teachings of the historical Jesus; Jesus didn’t say or do most of the things attributed to him in the gospels; we have no contemporaneous accounts of the historical Jesus; science is irreconcilable with Christian faith; evolution disproves Christianity; Stephen Hawking has shown how “quantum gravity” accounts for creation out of nothing; the existence of evil proves God doesn’t exist.

I could go on, obviously.

Are we not supposed to furnish answers to these questions—or just let these intellectual doubts fester? The moment we attempt to answer them, however, we are doing apologetics. So we may as well learn to do it properly.

My concern, therefore, is not merely evangelism. It’s also bolstering the faith of Christians, all of whom experience intellectual doubts from time to time. In other words, it’s not only a “heart” problem.

I could point to Paul’s preaching in Acts 17 as an example of apologetics. But also: his words at the beginning of 1 Corinthians 15 are incomprehensible if he’s not appealing to evidence for the resurrection: the resurrection is a real historical event, Paul says, and here’s how we can know. In our own way, we ought to be equipped to do the same. Not to prove it scientifically, but to show the reasonableness of it.

Fortunately, in our own day, we are blessed with serious scholars who are doing this good work: Alvin Plantinga, Peter Kreeft, Alister McGrath, John Lennox, William Lane Craig, N.T. Wright, et al.

Obviously, thinkers like C.S. Lewis and Chesterton did the same in their day.

No less a late-modern theologian than Wolfhart Pannenberg believed that the work of theology was inseparable from apologetics.

Have I made case? Why would fellow clergy have a problem with apologetics? What am I missing?

“Yes, free will is an illusion,” say Dawkins and Gervais, “but don’t worry about it”

July 14, 2015

dawkins_gervais

The two most recent podcasts of Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig have analyzed a popular YouTube video in which “new atheist” author and scientist Richard Dawkins interviews fellow atheist and comedian Ricky Gervais.

I was intrigued with the atheists’ candor regarding free will: they’re happy to concede that it’s an illusion, as you see in the following exchange.

RICHARD DAWKINS: I feel as though I have free will, even if I don’t.

RICKY GERVAIS: Of course. And, you know, I’d say determinism is sound. But it is when they start making these leaps that we can’t be responsible for our own actions. Well, you’ve still got to lock someone up if they go around murdering people to protect the innocent.

RICHARD DAWKINS: Yes. It wasn’t me that did the murder . . . it was my neurons and my genes.

RICKY GERVAIS: Of course. Yeah, it doesn’t work. There is obviously a little bit of that creeping into everything – responsibility, being adult about things. But yeah it doesn’t change a thing. I feel that I make my own choices, and if I don’t I certainly feel like I am choosing. So yeah it is not even worth worrying about. But yeah this thing that takes the art out of something or the humanity or the beauty – why? Why does it? It is strange.

Why, from their point of view, is free will an illusion?

Because, as philosophical materialists, they’re committed to a worldview that says nothing exists beyond this material world. Obviously, this worldview rules out God—and it also rules out immaterial created things like angels and demons. But if you’re an atheist, who cares?

The problem is that it also rules out another immaterial thing that every human being, whether theist or atheist, experiences all the time: an independent mind, which stands over and above our bodies and has the power to direct our thoughts and actions.

From an atheistic point of view, however, the “mind” is nothing more than the byproduct of blind, unguided physical processes that take place in the brain. These physical processes in the brain create the “mind” at every moment—the way a movie projector projects an image on the screen. Just as an actor on-screen can’t step outside of the projected image to adjust the focus or the volume, or go to the concession stand and buy popcorn, so our “minds” have no power to control our bodies.

Everyone, including Dawkins and Gervais, grants that the mind seems to have this power, which we call “free will,” but it’s only an illusion. Who cares, Gervais says. “I feel that I make my own choices, and if I don’t I certainly feel like I am choosing. So, yeah, it is not even worth worrying about.”

He hastens to add, however, that our lack of free will doesn’t eliminate individual responsibility. (Really? Explain how.) But even it does, “you’ve still got to lock someone up if they go around murdering people to protect the innocent.”

Is he blind to the irony of that statement? His words are truer than he knows: If we have no free will, then, by all means, you’ve “got to lock someone up.” I mean, you’ve got to—because the people who are going around locking others up also have no choice! They’re only doing what blind, unguided physical processes are compelling them to do. And all the while, their brains are lying to them, making them believe that they’re choosing to do so.

Yet somehow Dawkins and Gervais have no problem with this? I say that they are “of all men most to be pitied.”

After all, in the very next breath they complain about Christians who insist on a worldview that fails to see the world as they do. But why complain? By their own reasoning, Dawkins and Gervais aren’t atheists because they’ve thought it through, and they’ve chosen the worldview that makes the most sense of the world; they’re atheists because—again—blind, unguided physical processes have made them this way.

And those same blind, unguided physical processes have made Christians like me the way I am.

They should simply have compassion on less enlightened people like me. Of course, whether they do or don’t isn’t up to them.

“Reason to Believe,” Week 3: Examining the alternatives

March 27, 2015

reason_to_believe_class

Last Sunday evening, I finished my three-part class, “Reason to Believe,” by examining remaining alternative theories that purport to explain the events of Easter Sunday and its aftermath. Last week we discussed the conspiracy theory, the idea that the disciples had conspired to steal the body and convince the world that Jesus had been resurrected. This week, we looked at the following alternatives:

  • Wrong tomb: that the disciples discovered the wrong tomb, which was empty, and believed on that basis that Jesus was resurrected
  • Apparent death or “swoon theory”: that Jesus didn’t really die on the cross but recovered in the tomb
  • Psychological phenomena: that the disciples, grief-stricken and guilty that they had let their teacher die, experienced hallucinations of Jesus, and believed that he had been resurrected; or they were deluded into thinking that Jesus had returned from the dead, perhaps under the influence of Peter’s leadership.
  • Pagan influences: that the disciples had borrowed motifs from pagan religions about dying and rising gods, and applied them to the life and death of Jesus—if Jesus were even an historical person.

You may download an MP3 of this file by right-clicking here.

“Reason to Believe,” Week 1 is here.

“Reason to Believe,” Week 2 is here.

“Reason to Believe,” Week 1: Three things we know for sure (so far)

March 11, 2015

reason_to_believe_class

Last Sunday night at Hampton United Methodist Church I began my new three-week class, “Reason to Believe: Examining the Evidence for the Resurrection.” As I’ve said many times before, the resurrection of Jesus Christ rests on solid historical evidence. In this first session I began laying out the evidence using the strategy of Christian apologists Gary Habermas and Mike Licona: the “minimal facts” approach. I also draw upon the writings of William Lane Craig and N.T. Wright, as well as this podcast by Glenn Peoples.

[You can also download an MP3 of this presentation by clicking here.]

None of these ideas is original to me. In fact, since I recently listened to Dr. Peoples’s podcast in my car a few times on long car trips, I’m afraid I unintentionally stole a few turns of phrase from him. I intentionally stole some of his thoughts about Richard Carrier’s rejection of Fact #3. Sorry! But please listen to Peoples’s podcast and read his blog. He’s the best!

The minimal facts approach identifies facts surrounding Easter Sunday that nearly everyone—including the vast majority of secular historians—agrees upon. When I say “vast majority” that’s exactly what I mean: Habermas reviewed 2,200 articles related to the resurrection, written in English, German, or French, by a wide variety of scholars since 1975, and for each of these facts, nearly all agree upon the following, with the exception of the empty tomb, which enjoys a mere 75 percent of acceptance among scholars. (Don’t worry: as I say in my presentation, that the disciples found an empty tomb, especially given the historicity of Jesus’ burial in a tomb, is, from my perspective, a no-brainer.)

How one numbers and divides up these “minimal facts” varies from one person to another. In my class, I laid them out as follows (click to enlarge):

minimal_facts

As I explain in my video, we arrive at these facts, in part, by treating the documents that make up the New Testament merely as ancient historical documents, without any commitment to their inspiration by the Holy Spirit—not to mention a belief in their infallibility or inerrancy.

Notice Fact #4: I’m not asserting that historians believe the disciples saw the risen Lord, only that they sincerely believed they did. Regarding Facts #5 and 6, my point is that we can know from history that both James and Paul were “hostile witnesses”: people who disbelieved or opposed Christianity and, upon having an encounter with a person whom they believed was the resurrected Jesus, dramatically changed their lives, such that both were martyred for their faith.

In Part 1, I only covered the first three facts. As I told my class, these are not the most interesting. In fact, as scripture makes clear, only one disciple that we know of—the “beloved disciple,” or John—comes to faith on the basis of Fact #3, the discovery of the empty tomb. Nevertheless, in order to refute alternative theories that purport to explain Easter Sunday and its aftermath, we have to understand these first four facts. (Please note: Facts #5 and 6 could fall under #4. Fact #2—that Jesus was buried—could be implied by Fact #3. You get the idea.)

Enjoy! If you have a chance to watch the video (or listen to the MP3) and can offer feedback, I’d appreciate it.