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christian apologetics

This tag is associated with 150 posts

“The Fires of Heaven” by Robert Jordan- A Christian (re)reads the Wheel of Time

The Wheel of Time” is a massive fantasy series by Robert Jordan (and, later, Brandon Sanderson) that is being developed into a television show for Amazon Prime. It’s cultural impact is huge, the series having sold more than 44 million copies. Here, we continue the series with Book 5, The Fires of Heaven. There will be SPOILERS in this post for the series.

Power Corrupts, and Politics and Religion? 

In The Fires of Heaven, we are introduced to the Prophet of the Dragon, Masema. He has used Rand’s name to build himself a power base, and it is unclear yet whether he actually believes the things he says about the Dragon Reborn or not. What does seem clear is that this is a case of power corrupting. Masema goes mad over violations of protocol, he believes he has the right and the need to restrict even what people wear, how they act, and the like. His unification of religious belief and political power has become a corruption that is dangerous even for those who are trying to help Rand. In our own history, the unity of political and religious power has often played out in totalitarian ways as well, with absolute power corrupting and leading to danger for any who disagree.

The question of how the church and state ought to interact is an ancient one, and one heavily tinged by cultural referents. In the United States, it has become influenced greatly by the notion of “separation of church and state,” a dogma repeated so often it has become enshrined in the political sphere. There are many, many perspectives on the question, and my own preferred one is that of the Lutheran view of the Two Kingdoms–that the Kingdom of God is able to offer correction to the Kingdom of the World, but that the Kingdom of the World must not interfere with the Kingdom of God. Similarly, the realm of the world is generally to be left to the governance of human reason, only called upon to repent when needed.

With The Fires of Heaven, one might ask what kind of divisions of the political and religious are being suggested. There is certainly a sense of unease about Masema and his policies, but what will happen going forward? What kind of commentary might Robert Jordan be offering here?

Sacrifice

Moiraine gives her life up (maybe?) to defeat Lanfear. Birgitte nearly does the same to fight another Forsaken. Here we have the theme of sacrifice playing out rather clearly, though the implications of these sacrifices won’t be found out for some time yet. In Birgitte’s case, it leads to a linking of Birgitte with Elayne as a Warder. The theme of sacrifice hasn’t played prominently so far in the series, and it is clear Moiraine’s sacrifice is totally unexpected to Rand, who was blindsided by it.

Actions have Consequences

Balefire gets much discussion in this book, with its possibility of burning away threads of time and altering the past in unpredictable, terrifying ways. This ties into a broader sense of consequence throughout the series, in which actions have consequences that tend to be far ranging. Whether its simply walking through a town as a Ta’veran and causing weddings, accidents, and more or burning away an enemy permanently, there are serious repercussions for actions in the world. One can’t help but think of our own world, in which some of the smallest actions can have wide ranges of impact.

Conclusion

I have to say I thought The Fires of Heaven was a bit slower moving than the previous books. Despite its massive length, there also didn’t seem to me to be as much to discuss from a worldview perspective. What did you think of this novel? What worldview issues did you notice on reading it? Let me know in the comments.

Links

The Wheel of Time– Read all my posts on The Wheel of Time (scroll for more).

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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“Debate on the Evidences for Christianity” – Alexander Campbell vs. Robert Owen (1829) Part 1- Historical Apologetics Debates

Alexander Campbell (1788-1866)

Alexander Campbell (1788-1866) was a Scots-Irish immigrant in the United States who debated Christianity with a few well-known skeptics. One of his best known debates was with Robert Owen (1771-1858), who argued in favor of agnosticism. This debate was published as “Debate on the Evidences of Christianity” (1829, see link for download). Here, will look at what answers Campbell gave and where his arguments might have been improved. Owen was a fine opponent whom Campbell himself acknowledged as a worthy scholar.

Debate on the Evidences for Christianity Part I

The debate begins with a rather lengthy back-and-forth in which Owen and Campbell confirm and re-affirm their desire to meet and discuss the evidences of Christianity. Yet even in Campbell’s opening response to Owen’s request for a confirmation of the reasons for the debate, Campbell begins to offer an apology. He states:

Why, then, do you say, apologize for bringing this subject into public debate? Because, in so doing, we may appear to concede that it is yet an undecided question sub judice [under judicial hearing/review]; or, at least, that its opponents have some good reason for withholding their assent to its truth, and their consent to its requirements. Neither of which we are, at this time, prepared to admit. (12-13)

In other words, Campbell apologizes to his audience for giving the possibility of putting “God in the dock,” as the older phrase goes. But Campbell notes that Christians are to always have a reason and be prepared to defend their faith, so he presses on in his defense of Christianity.

Campbell then turns to the question of why skepticism is on the rise, a certainly on-point question in our own world. He argues that:

However this may be, for here we would not be dogmatical, we are assured that the progress of scepticism is neither owing to the weakness nor the paucity of the evidences of Christianity ; but to a profession of it unauthorized by, and incompatible with, the [C]hristian scriptures. (14)

Campbell’s reasoning, then, is that skepticism is on the rise not because the arguments and evidence for Christianity is poor, but instead because those who profess Christianity are themselves hypocritical and live unChristian lives.

Then, Campbell states some of the positions he believes his opponent will be force to hold, like holding that humans are no more moral than bees. He also outlines how he would defend Christianity. Namely, he would start by arguing for the truth of revealed religion, then move to show historical evidence, then show the divine origin of Christianity, and finally try to show from the “actual condition of the world” and prophecies that Christianity is from the Creator (18).

The outline he gives on page 18 is particularly interesting for those interested in historical apologetics because it shows how arguments can go in and out of fashion over time. This is evident when one reads several works on the Deist Controversy, but also when one reads older works in general, one finds several arguments people of the time thought were interesting or compelling that we have little interest in. The same could be said in reverse–it is unlikely that some of the arguments modern apologists write about would find much sway in the 1800s. Cultural norms and expectations go into an apologetic just as much as do other factors.

For now, we’ll leave off here, awaiting Owen’s response to Campbell in this first part of the debate.

Questions

  1. Do you think it would be possible to prove the divine origin of something? If so, how?
  2. What do you think of Campbell’s presentation of Owen’s position?
  3. Do you think that professing Christians today harm the witness of Christ? How might an apologist approach such a question?

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Apologetics Read-Through: Historical Apologetics Read-Along– Here are links for the collected posts in this series and other read-throughs of apologetics books (forthcoming).

Dead Apologists Society– A page for Christians interested in the works of historical apologetics. There is also a Facebook group for it.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

 

 

Apologetics Guided Reading: George Park Fisher “Manual of Christian Evidences” Chapter 11

I am leading a guided reading of the Manual of Christian Evidences by George Park Fisher. It is freely available online and will serve as a base for discussing Christian apologetics throughout this series. The chapters are short and readable. I encourage you to join in by reading the chapters and commenting with your thoughts. When I discuss the book, I will be citing page numbers from the edition linked above

Chapter 11

Fisher notes the charge that the apostles had “erroneous opinions on certain subjects” and makes it more clear that it may be related to scientific questions like “astronomy, or of other sciences.” Such a charge, however, is largely irrelevant because we can acknowledge they held mistaken views of such things and they may have been “greatly excelled” in knowledge of these topics by others of their or our own day. Instead, what matters is whether someone can show what they report in the Gospels for their testimony of the facts is untrue (86).

The question of religious opinions of the apostles has also been called to account, and Fisher notes one area charged with error was the belief that Jesus would return quite soon. To rebut this, Fisher highlights several passages in which it is made clear that none knows when Christ will return except for the Father, and that those who believe the apostles held this erroneous belief are more likely to discover it. Others have argued that the apostles’ discussion of demons and demoniacs is cause for seeing error, but Fisher offers to possible solutions. One is to accept physical/mental ailments for the cause of these reports and hold that Christ condescended to the beliefs of the time to see, say, epilepsy as evidence of demonic activity. Another solution he offers is more open minded: “Too little is known of the supernatural world to warrant a dogmatic denial of such an influence exercised by evil spirits (89). That is, Fisher argues that we assume much if we grant a supernatural realm and then turn around to deny that it could have such physical manifestations. One might argue that even someone who remains agnostic should grant this as a possibility, for only “dogmatic denial” can exclude this possibility.

Study Questions

1. What do you make of Fisher’s argument that apostolic error regarding scientific questions is irrelevant to their testimony regarding the events they witnessed?

2. Fisher acknowledges that some may simply state that Christ’s healing of demons and discussions of the same could be accommodation to the cultural understandings of the people of his time. What problems might their be with such a reading? How could it be strengthened?

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Apologetics Read-Through: Historical Apologetics Read-Along– Here are links for the collected posts in this series and other read-throughs of apologetics books (forthcoming).

Dead Apologists Society– A page for Christians interested in the works of historical apologetics. There is also a Facebook group for it.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Can a Scientist Believe in Miracles?” by Ian Hutchinson

Can a Scientist Believe in Miracles? by Ian Hutchinson is an introductory-level apologetics work by a scientist that touches upon many, many questions that might be asked of believers.

The book is based largely upon Hutchinson’s own experiences of fielding questions as a speaker at Veritas Forum engagements. Thus, the book is set up in a question-and-answer format which groups like questions together. The book is a kind of grab-bag of topics that can be read either cover-to-cover or skimmed to find relevant questions.

The whole thing, however, is a fairly basic introduction to apologetics. Given the number of books of this particular type, readers may immediately, and fairly, ask why this book is relevant to them. The simplest answer is that this book is written by someone who, as a physicist, approaches the scientific questions with greater detail and knowledge than most books of this type. Hutchinson writes in a winsome manner, but he doesn’t skirt tough topics. Moreover, he approaches the questions included in  the volume with the mind of a scientist. He does not pull punches when it comes to scientific theories that have been demonstrated through many strands of evidence.

Can a Scientist Believe in Miracles? is a good introduction to a number of apologetics questions. It is particularly useful as a book to give to those who may be more interested in the scientific aspects of faith questions.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

What’s Wrong With Apologetics?

One thing that strikes me is how dim a view so many have of apologetics. This is not just from people who aren’t Christian. I see theologians, clergy, etc. who don’t trust apologists. I say “don’t trust” because that’s accurately what people say: there is a perception of apologists or those doing apologetics as people who just want to win an argument. Apologists are viewed negatively with almost universal unanimity by those who are not Christians as well. Such universal aversion, even from within, ought to tell us that Something is wrong with apologetics. I wanted to spend some time to talk about what’s wrong with apologetics. I don’t have any quick fixes; I don’t have any way to repair the damage we apologists often do. I do offer a few possible solutions, so this doesn’t feel as hopeless as it might otherwise.

1. We are too quick to teach rather than learn.

We often have a lot of training and we do a lot of reading. So when someone comes along and makes a “basic” objection to Christianity or a clear mistake, we tend to shift to lecturing almost immediately. Rather than listening to the real concerns of others, we tend to move too swiftly into correction or trying to tell them why they’re wrong. It is rarely, if ever, helpful to try to lecture someone into your own position. Moreover, it shows a remarkable amount of self-importance and arrogance when we assume that others want or need us to teach them. Yes, it’s possible that people we speak with are woefully uninformed on a topic at hand; but that doesn’t mean it is our job to teach them or that they want us to do so.

Possible solutions: Refrain from teaching others unless they ask. Example: The person you are engaging says “Really? I don’t know much about that. Could you tell me more?”
Make every effort to spend at least as much time listening to others as you do talking. Example: You’re speaking with a non-Christian who appears not to know much about the topic; instead of lecturing them so they can learn about it, ask probing questions: “Why do you think that is?” “Have you heard about other possibilities?”
Before jumping into any explanation of something, ask if that is what the other person wants. Example: “May I share my perspective?” Note that genuine listening to their perspective will make it much more likely that they value hearing your own.

 2. We believe we are experts where we are not.

I think this one is hugely important. Training in apologetics is a kind of jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none training. You may think you’re an expert in evolutionary biology because you took a graduate or undergraduate level course on it. You’re not. I may think I am qualified to lecture on the history of philosophy given how many philosophers I’ve read. I’m not. No one can be an expert on everything, and becoming an expert on just one thing takes a massive investment of time and resources. But I see and have heard of Christian apologists constantly firing off on things they simply don’t know anything about. It’s okay to have an opinion, but acting as if that opinion is a reasoned response to thousands of hours of study when it is really just a general sense is deeply problematic. Moreover, apologists too often engage in fields where they are not even close to experts, and end up coming off as rather arrogant and ignorant as a result.

Possible solutions: Admit you are not an expert. “I had one class in college on economics, so I am sure you know more than I do. Perhaps you can tell me why you feel so strongly about your differing position?”
Do not lecture (see above!). Unless you have an advanced degree in biology, your attempts to argue that there must be a creator for the origin of life might actually be amateurish without you knowing it. An expert in that field may see you as a fraud. It is okay to say “I don’t know much about this topic, but it seems to me that x requires y. Could you explain why you think differently?”

3. We do not value other perspectives.

Just the fact that someone else is a different religion than your own or -gasp- a different denomination or political party does not mean they are automatically wrong. Guess what, you make mistakes too! Indeed, I have been forced to change my perspective on a large number of things upon deeper examination of the evidence. You’re probably wrong about something, so maybe other people with different perspectives can present great learning opportunities for you or ways to challenge your own beliefs.

Possible solutions: Don’t waste time trying to correct others’ (wrong) opinions. They don’t need that and probably won’t value what you’re doing at all. Use disagreement to come to deeper understanding and respect. Our ultimate goal may be to “win others to Christ,” but we can’t do that if we’re too busy being complete meatheads to everyone we disagree with in the meantime.

4. We don’t actually treat others with gentleness and respect.

I think this is pretty obvious. We all know we’ve seen apologists being totally rude and disrespectful to others. Don’t do it. If you see it, call that out.

5. We are too dismissive of the difficult history of Christians and Christianity.

“That’s a ad hominem!” “That’s a genetic fallacy!” “That was so long ago and not my denomination!”

Yep. We have all done this when confronted with the very real, long, horrible history of Christians behaving badly. Antebellum slavery, Crusades, witch hunts, inquisitions, the list can go on and on. If your gut reaction to that list was to say one of the above, you’re part of the problem. Martin Luther was anti-Semitic, so were a boatload of the Reformers. Maybe instead of dismissing that history, we ought to apologize for and reject it. It would go a long way.

6. We dismiss concerns of others by calling them logical fallacies.

There was a little bit of this seen in the previous point, but we apologists love pointing out fallacies. I know I do. It’s kind of like the “Gnostic” card for theologians, it gives a thrill to bust your opponents’ use of the genetic fallacy. Boom, argument won, right? Well, maybe, but it hardly comes across as “kindness/gentleness and respect” when you’re talking to someone at Thanksgiving and telling them they’re guilty of post hoc ergo propter hoc. Fallacies are a real thing, but it’s also possible to misidentify a fallacy and make a fallacy fallacy, as I call it: saying someone is being fallacious when they’re not. Indeed, many fallacies can be too liberally applied: the fallacy of appealing to an expert may be mistaken, but if 99% of all experts in a given field agree on something, that ought to give us pause if we disagree. Again, we’re not experts on everything.

Possible solutions: don’t jump to conclusions regarding fallacies. If someone is truly engaging in a lengthy argument with you, maybe it’s okay to start pointing them out by name, but it usually doesn’t expand the conversation.
Instead of calling fallacies by name, which may come off as throwing your learning in someone’s face, just explain the issue. “You suggested Lutheranism must be false because Martin Luther was an anti-Semite. I agree he was anti-Semitic, and I think that is deeply, horribly wrong. It is possible to be wrong about one thing and right about other things, though, don’t you agree?” It takes more work than shouting “genetic fallacy, you lose!” but it may get you farther in conversation.

7. We over-value our heroes and under-value our “foes.” 

William Lane Craig said it, so it must be true, right?

Cornelius Van Til’s apologetic approach can’t be wrong, can it?

Yeah, we have heroes. They make mistakes, too. Just because William Lane Craig did a Defenders podcast about something doesn’t mean he actually is right about a specific doctrinal point. Moreover, we’re too willing to look over real moral or philosophical failings in our heroes. It’s okay to acknowledge that someone we admire can be wrong about something. They certainly are. More importantly, it is altogether possible that some of the “arch-enemies” of Christianity have some things right. Richard Dawkins. The name alone is enough to raise hackles for some, but we should not dismiss everything the man says. He is truly an expert on evolutionary biology who taught at Oxford as a Professor for Public Understanding of Science! Is it possible that we might gain some understanding of science from the guy? Probably. Yes. We would.

Possible solutions: Be ready to admit when your favorites get things wrong and be willing to acknowledge it.
Read works by others with the intent to understand what they’re saying rather than exclusively to refute it.

8. We do not practice what we preach.

I heard it time and again in apologetics classes: “Christianity is offensive enough, we don’t need to make it more offensive.” The general implication was that we ought not to add baggage to Christianity that might drive others off. But far, far too many apologists are all too willing to dismiss others’ real world concerns as the ramblings of a “social justice warrior” (itself seen as a bad thing) or to write off ethical concerns as beneath us. Yet it is definitely not wrong to say that Jesus loved the poor, warned the rich, and came for the sinner. Those “social justice” concerns that altogether too many apologists write off as some kind of conspiracy of atheists are truly concerns of the Christian and found in the Bible, which exhorts us to “do justice.” Yes, yes, I now: “justice” may look different to different people. But before you rush off to dismiss others’ concerns, maybe spend some time listening to why they have whatever catch phrase written on their T-shirt or why they feel so strongly about a topic that they’re marching for what they believe is justice. Genuine, caring listening–especially to those with whom we disagree–can go a long way to heal the perception that Christian apologists currently have.

9. We circle the wagons.

There’s not an easy way to say this, and I’ve said it a few times already: you’re wrong about a lot of things. No one’s perfect; it’s okay. But if your gut reaction to someone’s challenge to your belief is to double down rather than even listen to their perspective, that might mean you need to spend some time really thinking about that topic. Simply standing up and re-asserting you’re right again and again doesn’t actually engage anyone else.

Conclusion

There’s a lot wrong with apologetics. A lot. I say this as someone with an advanced degree in the field. Hopefully reading this will lead to some introspection, and some other bloggers going and writing their own reflections, and maybe some changing of hearts can happen. We need to fix apologetics. We need to take seriously the fact that it has such a negative perception, even within the church. It’s not a matter of arguing more–it’s a matter of truly taking feedback and acting on it. I hope this helps.

In Christ,

J.W. Wartick

SDG.

Book Review: “The Morals of the Story: Good News about a Good God” by David Baggett and Marybeth Baggett

The Morals of the Story: Good News about a Good God is a witty look at the moral argument and some objections to it.

The book begins with an overview of the moral argument (more like moral arguments because there are several varieties) throughout the centuries, giving readers a working knowledge of the major philosophers who have engaged with the argument in the past. A brief section addresses Euthyphro’s dilemma in between the major sections before transitioning into positive arguments in favor of the premises of the moral argument. The argument the Baggett’s present is an abductive version of the argument rather than a deductive one. That is, their argument relies on observations of moral facts leads to God’s existence as the best conclusion from these facts.

David and Marybeth Baggett provide readers with anecdotes and examples to break up the more philosophical portions of the book, and there are study questions at the end of each chapter. The book is geared towards those with up to a moderate knowledge of the moral argument and can serve as an introduction to the same. Overall, the book seems to be presenting the argument in a winsome way alongside giving the basics such that readers will come away able to articulate the argument themselves.

The Morals of the Story: Good News about a Good God is a good introduction to one of the more intriguing theistic proofs. It acts as an introductory synthesis to much of David Baggett’s earlier work on the same argument. It’s recommended for those who are engaging in apologetics and interested in exploring this argument further. It could be used as a study group book, as well.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Presuppositionalism vs. Evidentialism – A case study on apologetic method featuring Cornelius Van Til and John Warwick Montgomery

Cornelius Van Til

Cornelius Van Til and John Warwick Montgomery are two of the most prominent defenders of opposing views of apologetics. Van Til defends presuppositionalism, an apologetic method that is founded on the notion that God’s existence must be presupposed–it is the beginning of the reasoning process rather than the end. Evidentialism is a school of apologetics that seeks to show that evidences–often historical evidence for the Resurrection–yield the conclusion that God exists and that Christianity is true. One of these views (presuppositionalism), in other words, argues top down by assuming God exists and showing how the world cannot be understood without that posited fact; the other (evidentialism) goes bottom up, showing how beliefs that are, purportedly [1], shared by Christians and non-Christians may demonstrate the truth of Christianity.

What makes these two particularly interesting is that they each offer a kind of parable for their position. These parables each, individually, reveal much about how the apologist thinks apologetics ought–and ought not–to be done. Though their parables are too long to post in their entirety, we will here examine some key aspects of both Van Til’s and Montgomery’s picture imagery about how apologetics should work.

Cornelius Van Til’s Misters White, Grey, and Black

Cornelius Van Til’s apologetic approach is illustrated in an extended section of his work The Defense of the Faith. Here, he utilizes three men: Mr. White (standing in for the presuppositional apologist), Mr. Grey (standing in for the evidential–he calls “Romanist-evangelical”–apologist), and Mr. Black (standing in for the non-Christian) in dialogue with each other to illustrate how he believes apologetics should work, as well as what he sees as fatal objections to his opposition.

The section in question is found in p. 312-340 of the aforementioned work. Van Til argues that Mr. Black will be more comfortable with Mr. Grey because Mr. Grey concedes some ground to him: “Mr. Grey uses the Bible, experience, reason, or logic as equally independent sources of information about his own and therefore about Mr. Black’s predicament” (313). Though he concedes that Mr. Grey may see the Bible as “by far the most important” of these sources, the problem is that he sees these sources of knowledge independently. A problem that develops over this dialogue as Van Til develops it is that Mr. Black refuses to see himself as a lost person in need of repentance, and so Mr. Grey’s position cannot challenge the foundation of his view: a rejection of the authority of the Bible.

Mr. Grey can stand on “common ground” with Mr. Black (320) and this allows for a quicker response from Mr. Black to Mr. Grey than to Mr. White. Here, of course, we begin to see Van Til’s explicitly Calvinist/Reformed position come through. It is simply the case that Van Til believed that his position was such that it would offer an absolute refutation of all but the Calvinist/Reformed position, in addition to being used with non-Christians. This limits the applicability of his argument a bit for those who do not accept that position, but we’ll press on.

The crux of the argument comes when the question of proofs of the existence of God and Christianity come up. Here, Van Til notes that “If one reasons for the existence of God and for the truth of Christianity on the assumption that Mr. Black’s principles of explanation are valid, then one must witness on the same assumption” (339). Thus, in the dialogue, we see Mr. Grey attempting to witness to Mr. Black, having come to an agreement that Mr. White is wrong on a number of levels. But Mr. Grey is taken aback when Mr. Black fails to concede the argument. Here, we see Mr. Black speaking to Mr. Grey:

“[Y]ou are now witnessing to Christ as well as to God, to Christianity as well as to theism. I suppose your argument… would be similar in nature… You would argue that the Jesus of the New Testament is probably the Son of God and that he quite probably died for the sins of men…. by witnessing instead of reasoning you seem to admit that there is no objective claim for the truth of what you hold with respect to Christ. Am I right in all this?” (337-338)

This, for Van Til, is where the evidentialist argument completely collapses. Because they fail to have an objective basis for believing in God/Christ, they ultimately concede the position to the non-Christian, allowing only for subjective witness to the truth of Christianity. Because Mr. Grey concedes that Mr. Black can reason independently of the truth of the Bible, he allows Mr. Black to use his independent reason to utterly reject the same. This concession is seen when Mr. Grey “nods approval” to Mr. Black’s argument that “unconditional surrender to the authority of Scripture is irrational” (332). He does the same when Mr. Black objects that it is rationalistic (ibid). Further, because Mr. Grey admits of “possibility” rather than certainty when it comes to arguments about the existence of God, he allows the non-Christian Mr. Black to reject God based on “possibility” as well. Probability does not yield certainty, so certainty is what is required. Only Mr. White’s position which argues from absolute certainty by presupposing the truth of the Bible is capable of granting an objective basis for affirming God’s existence and Jesus Christ as God, in addition to many other Christian doctrines.

Thus, for Van Til, the necessity of his position is proved by the argument that, without such a presupposition, the non-Christian may be perfectly comfortable rejecting Christianity through means of “probability” already present in his or her view of the world.

John Warwick Montgomery’s “Once Upon an A Priori

John Warwick Montgomery, a prominent evidential apologist, felt the weight of Van Til’s argument and offered his own parable in response. Montgomery’s parable may be found in his work Faith Founded on Fact: Essays in Evidential Apologetics. There, he writes of the people of Shadok and Gibi, who each refuse to concede any “brute” or “neutral” ground regarding facts. For each, it is his or her own God who is the one, single, true God that must be presupposed (God-Sh for Shadok and God-G for Gibi). A brief excerpt gets at the heart of John Warwick Montgomery’s argument:

Shadok: You will never discover the truth, for instead of subordinating yourself to revelation truth (Bible-SH), you sinfully insist on maintaining the autonomy of your fallen intellect.
Gibi: Quite the contrary! [He repeats exactly the same asseriton, substituting (Bible-G) for (Bible-Sh)]… (114)

The conversation goes on, referencing Van Til’s insistence on the notion that the non-Christian wears colored glasses that make it impossible for them to see anything outside of their single-hued world. Montgomery concludes “The hopelessness of this encounter should be painfully evident. Neither viewpoint can prevail, since by definition all appeal  to neutral evidence is eliminated” (115, emphasis his). Thus, John Warwick Montgomery’s own parable is a counter to Van Til’s, one which argues instead that neutral evidence–evidence that Mr. Grey, Mr. White, and Mr. Black all have access to–must exist, for otherwise they would have nothing to which they could appeal to determine who is right.

A Critical Comparison

The conversation between these competing parables does not, of course, stop with the original authors. The late Greg Bahnsen, a defender of Van Til’s apologetic, wrote an article responding to John Warwick Montgomery’s critique. There, Bahnsen argues that Montgomery misunderstands presuppositionalism on a number of accounts, but primarily because “Montgomery fails to see that Van Til’s apologetic claims that use of facts and logic is not simply directed in a different direction on non-Christian presuppositions, but is in principle impossible” (see link, emphasis his). In contrast, Greg Habermas, another evidentialist, argued that it was Bahnsen who failed to get at the critique Montgomery offered. In his own article, he replies to Bahnsen by arguing that:

the often contradictory interpretations of facts must be taken, in the sense of the
creative intermix between induction and deduction that Piercean abduction or “inference
to the best explanation” typifies, to the facts themselves. (see link)

These hint at a much broader debate, largely centered around the nature of facts. The presuppositionalist argues there is no neutral ground (a position that appealed to me enough at one point [almost 10 years ago! ah!] to write a post on it). The evidentialist argues that, quite contrary, there must be neutral facts because otherwise no one could determine whether their own view is correct. The presuppositionalist responds by arguing that it is only by presupposing the one true worldview (eg. Christianity) that one may correctly analyze facts. Indeed, it is perfectly possible to appeal to facts, not because they are “brute” or “neutral,” but because worldviews other than Christianity are necessarily inconsistent. That is, it is certainly possible for any non-Christian to know truth, but only because they have inconsistently turned from their worldview to adopt presuppositions of Christianity on certain points. The extent to which the non-Christian has true knowledge, then, is the extent to which their own worldview is inconsistent.

Conclusions

At this point, readers may wonder how these two contrary positions could ever meet. I honestly begin to despair myself, trying to draw this to a close. Rather than attempting to offer decisive conclusions in this debate that has gone on for years and thousands upon thousands of words, I want to offer a few of my own observations.

First, it seems to me that, supposing presuppostionalists are correct and there is no neutral ground, it is impossible to engage with other worldviews without making a practical, working assumption that there is such neutral ground. Though the presuppositionalist may be correct in that the non-Christian is inconsistent at every point they can agree on facts, they must come to some facts that they do agree on. At that point, the presuppositionalist may point out the non-Christian is inconsistent, and thus build their case from there, but it is only at that point that the methods truly diverge. Indeed, when one observes someone like Greg Bahnsen in debate (a review that is probably more favorable than I would be now), one sees the vast difference in method from someone who uses a more evidential or classical approach. But my point is that, on a practical level, there isn’t actually a huge difference between the evidentialist and the presuppositionalist when it comes to utilizing facts. They may both object to this, but the presuppositionalist would point to a fact (which they would, yes, hold may only be properly understood or believed from a Christian perspective) that Jesus was in fact crucified and died in order to show the truth of the Resurrection, and the evidentialist would point to that same fact, though their overall cases may differ. It is only when the presuppositionalist moves to the overarching, so-named transcendetal argument that the methods would radically differ. Now, plenty of presuppositionalists would use the TAG (transcendental argument for God) immediately, so their method will be quite different.

It does seem to me that the above comments yield the notion that presuppositionalism may be a bit too strong in its utter denial of any possibility of contact with the unbeliever. On an objective, totally abstract level one may concede that. But given that human language works for communication, there must be points of contact. Sure, that may mean the non-Christian is inconsistent on that high, abstract level, but it also means that the presuppositionalist can operate around the same when it comes to offering evidence–which itself falsifies the accusation that presuppositionalists don’t utilize evidence.

Another possible negative of the presuppositional view is that it is unfalsifiable, because at every point on which there is disagreement, the presuppositionalist may simply appeal to a misunderstanding. Like John Warwick Montgomery’s parable, they may simply assert the non-Christian is not understanding or suppressing the truth, and that’s why they don’t acknowledge it. Of course, some presuppositionalists may see this unfalsifiability as a strength of their position, which, they might argue, yields certainty of belief. But then, we come full circle into the notion that any other unfalsifiable view could appeal to the same reasoning.

I hardly think I’ve solved these problems, but it is a worthy exercise for those interested in apologetics to engage with these two divergent methods and try to learn from them. For myself, I think an integration of various methods works best.

All quotations used are from the works cited and used under fair use for purposes such as criticism. 

Works Cited

Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2008).

Gary Habermas, “Greg Bahnsen, John Warwick Montgomery, and Evidential Apologetics.” https://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.bing.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1108&context=lts_fac_pubs. Accessed January 2019.

Greg Bahnsen, “A Critique of the Evidentialist Apologetical Method of John Warwick Montgomery.” http://www.cmfnow.com/articles/pa016.htm. Accessed January 2019.

John Warwick Montgomery, Faith Founded on Fact (Edmonton, AB Canada: Canadian Institute for Law, Theology, and Public Policy, Inc., 2001).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

[1] I say “purportedly” because presuppositionalists would deny that non-Christians may share any beliefs with Christians. By not having the same starting point–God–all other facts come into question.

 

Apologetics Guided Reading: George Park Fisher “Manual of Christian Evidences” Chapter 10

I am leading a guided reading of the Manual of Christian Evidences by George Park Fisher. It is freely available online and will serve as a base for discussing Christian apologetics throughout this series. The chapters are short and readable. I encourage you to join in by reading the chapters and commenting with your thoughts. When I discuss the book, I will be citing page numbers from the edition linked above

Chapter 10

Fisher here builds upon his arguments from chapter 8 and chapter 9 regarding the trustworthiness of the Gospels and the apostles, building a case for the resurrection once we have found the Gospels to be trustworthy.

First, Fisher notes that the detail that Jesus actually died needs little defense. The idea that Jesus could have survived crucifixion seems impossible. Moreover, that Jesus began appearing on the third day doesn’t give enough time for expectations or development of theology to occur such that the disciples could have imagined fulfillment for it. The most powerful evidence, argues Fisher, for the resurrection of Jesus comes from the appearances to the apostles and their accounting of them. These show that Jesus was physically present and unexpected.

Study Questions

1. What kind of things occurred during crucifixion? Could someone have survived them? What kind of responsibility did Roman guards have for those whose executions they were guarding?

2. Write down aspects of Jesus’s appearance to the apostles found in the Gospels. What things do we know about Jesus from these accounts? Include physical details.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Apologetics Read-Through: Historical Apologetics Read-Along– Here are links for the collected posts in this series and other read-throughs of apologetics books (forthcoming).

Dead Apologists Society– A page for Christians interested in the works of historical apologetics. There is also a Facebook group for it.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Apologetics Guided Reading: George Park Fisher “Manual of Christian Evidences” Chapter 9

I am leading a guided reading of the Manual of Christian Evidences by George Park Fisher. It is freely available online and will serve as a base for discussing Christian apologetics throughout this series. The chapters are short and readable. I encourage you to join in by reading the chapters and commenting with your thoughts. When I discuss the book, I will be citing page numbers from the edition linked above.

Chapter 9

Fisher’s argument in chapter 9 centers on the credibility of the apostles. In Chapter 8, he argued for the credibility of the Gospels, so he builds on the notion that the Gospels may be trusted to report the words of the Apostles to the question of why we ought to trust them.

First, he notes that we ought to generally trust people unless we have reason to distrust them, whether through intent to deceive or some independent reason to doubt their testimony (71). Other reasons to distrust them may be that they were “enthusiasts” or “simpletons.” A primary reason Fisher cites to trust the apostles is that they give testimony that shows them in a poor light. One example is Paul’s own writings in which he states that he persecuted the church (72-73). They also admit their own contentions about who should be first–the inner fights they had, and the rebukes against some of them by Jesus. Their willingness to show themselves as foolish or mistaken in various forms lends credence to their reports as truth.

Regarding the miracles they report, Fisher touches on the mythic theory put forward by David Friedrich Strauss–that the miracles found in the Gospels were imagined by followers of Jesus who were so caught up in him that they (intentionally or not) invented tales about his power. Fisher counters this by noting that this gets the story backwards, for the reason so many were interested in Jesus was because of the very miracles those selfsame people are alleged to have invented. How could they have become followers of Christ on account of miracles if they themselves invented them (74-75)?

One objection to the authenticity of the Gospels is found in alleged discrepancies between their accounts. Fisher approaches this argument from a few different ways. First, he notes that many of these alleged contradictions are not actually contradictions at all. He does not exhaustively look at such contradictions (for such a look, it is interesting to look at J.J. Blunt’s Undesigned Coincidences). Second, Fisher argues that minor discrepancies are to be expected in any human testimony. Should we demand 100% agreement in all testimony everywhere, courts would have to be “shut up, for the most veracious witnesses seldom agree in all the minutiae which enter into their testimony” (76).  One example I use personally is that of someone’s height. I’m short for an adult man, so on the witness stand I may call someone “tall” who someone of average of height might call “average.” Such a discrepancy in testimony doesn’t suggest we’d both be wrong, but that human perspective changes based on who the witness is. Fisher’s comments here would likely make some uncomfortable regarding specific doctrines of inspiration, particularly a stringent view of inerrancy. It seems Fisher is willing to allow for their to be even some factual discrepancies between the Gospels due to their human authorship. Third, Fisher notes that the Gospels are not intended to be exhaustive historical accounts but rather the remembrances of eyewitnesses, and so frequently the apparent contradictions or discrepancies could be resolved by simply having more detail. These details are often provided by other Gospel accounts, so it is important to compare them.

Regarding the miracles in the apostles’ accounts, Fisher notes a few lines of evidence. First, they verify revelations. Second, the miracles go against prevailing belief, such that they went against expectations. Third, several of the miracles were in circumstances people felt they were highly unlikely to occur. Fourth, the apostles were subject to persecution regarding their belief in many of these miracles. Thus, if they were inventing them, it was likely they would have given up the invention rather than try to maintain their false pretense. Fifth, the manner of reporting of miracles the apostles had was such that it lends credence to “sobriety of mind” rather than invented myths. Regarding the appearances of Christ, one of the points Fisher makes is that they were limited in time and scope. If they were invented, why would the appearances have stopped?

I think regarding Fisher’s last point, we could note that some do still allege appearances of Christ here and there. There are the infamous “Jesus toast” type of instances, which are dismissed by virtually all, including believers. So again, this seems to go against the idea that Christ-followers were or continue to be particularly prone to the invention and perpetuation of the miraculous. This doesn’t go into issues of charismata and the like, but questions and responses could be asked here as we continue to look at the nature of the miraculous.

Fisher’s succinct chapter here is filled with lines of thought. Again, he merely touches on most issues, but his arguments seem powerful. What takeaways did you have from this chapter?

Study Questions

  1. Fisher’s response to Strauss is quite brief. How might you expand it? What other interactions with Strauss have you run into?
  2. What do you think of Fisher’s comments regarding discrepancies in the apostles’ accounts? How might his answer impact one’s view of the Bible?
  3. What apparent contradictions have you seen in the Bible that you have been able to resolve?

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Apologetics Read-Through: Historical Apologetics Read-Along– Here are links for the collected posts in this series and other read-throughs of apologetics books (forthcoming).

Dead Apologists Society– A page for Christians interested in the works of historical apologetics. There is also a Facebook group for it.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Apologetics Guided Reading: George Park Fisher “Manual of Christian Evidences” Chapter 8

All rights reserved.

I am leading a guided reading of the Manual of Christian Evidences by George Park Fisher. It is freely available online and will serve as a base for discussing Christian apologetics throughout this series. The chapters are short and readable. I encourage you to join in by reading the chapters and commenting with your thoughts. When I discuss the book, I will be citing page numbers from the edition linked above.

Chapter 8

Fisher here argues that the way we find the Gospels to be genuine/authentic is the same way we find other documents authentic, namely the “early reception of writings as genuine by those who had the means of knowing, early traditions… which are not justly liable to suspicion, references to them, quotations from them, at a time when, if they were spurious, this fact could not have been concealed, internal marks in the works themselves indicative of their authorship or date of composition…” (47). In typical fashion, Fisher does not here draw out these arguments in much detail. He provides an overview, then a few details on selected points.

Next, Fisher provides one of his lengthier discussions of anything, tracing various early Christians lives and their connections to the authenticity of the Gospels. He notes that many of these early Christians referenced the Gospels offhandedly just as they do the Old Testament. Their treatment of the set of works about Christ and those accepted as Hebrew Scriptures is, in other words, similar enough that we may conclude they thought of them as equally authoritative.

The work Fisher mentions called “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles” is more commonly referred to as the Didache. One thing to be careful of reading historical apologetics is that sometimes information in them is out of date (i.e. a reference to an allegedly ancient document that we later discover was a forgery or something else). This is not one of those cases, as the Didache is indeed quite ancient (and typically dated to within the 1st Century AD). Thus, we have perhaps a little more surety over its dating than Fisher did when he wrote the Manual, and its confirmation of the probable existence of the Gospels is quite valuable. It is possible the references to the Gospel were, in fact, references to the oral tradition that was written down as the Gospels, and many modern scholars have argued that’s what happened. But in either case, the Didache provides a confirmation of very early knowledge of Christ as well as some early Christian teachings.

The Gospels each have references to real places and events that, as Fisher notes, are introduced without design and certainly allow us to date them quite early. The place names, names of people, and events all serve as earmarks for the authenticity of the Gospels, and though some very specific details are still debated, overall the impression of authenticity is overwhelming. Finally, Fisher argues that the Johannine Epistles and Gospel share enough important details and linguistic factors to agree that they’ve the same author.

Chapter 8 is thus one of the most robust chapters in the book, and certainly one of the most intriguing so far. Though it doesn’t have any astonishing “new” or rediscovered arguments, it does provide a solid outline for a defense of the authenticity of the Gospels.

What did you think of this chapter? Do offhanded remarks about places and people give more authenticity to an ancient work?

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Apologetics Read-Through: Historical Apologetics Read-Along– Here are links for the collected posts in this series and other read-throughs of apologetics books (forthcoming).

Dead Apologists Society– A page for Christians interested in the works of historical apologetics. There is also a Facebook group for it.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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