Apologetics

Apologetic of Mercy

Apologetic of Mercy

My friend and former student, Chris Sicks, wrote an important book titled Tangible: Making God Known Through Deeds of Mercy and Words of Truth. In today’s Church there seems to be two well-intentioned groups. “Deed” people feed the hungry and help the poor while “Word” people proclaim the Gospel and engage in apologetics. The two often seem to compete with one another, but God always intended them to be partners. Sacrificial love can grab the attention of those we serve, opening their ears and minds to the words we share.

Chris was my student at Reformed Theological Seminary, where his personal ministry and his studies in my apologetics course combined to develop his thesis, which forms the basis for his book. His labors have resulted in a great book that I am proud to endorse and plan to assign in future courses. Chris cares passionately and has thought deeply about this topic.

He invited me to write the foreword, which is below.


 

At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, He stood up in the synagogue at Nazareth and declared that He was the fulfillment of these words of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). In this declaration and in His ministry Jesus showed that bringing freedom for captives and relief to the poor and oppressed are at the very center of His divine mission. His ultimate act of liberation was His sinless life, substitutionary death, and victorious resurrection, which set His people free from slavery to sin and death. Yet His teachings and example show us that if the gospel message is to be recognized in its full power, the proclamation of the good news of Christ’s saving work should be accompanied by tangible acts of love, service, and mercy toward our neighbors.

Historically, the Christian church has at its best been known for exemplary love and sacrificial service to “the least of these”—the poor, oppressed, and marginalized. Such service has provided a powerful apologetic for the gospel. The fourth-century church provides one example:

In his attempt to reestablish Hellenic religion in the empire, [the emperor] Julian instructed the high priest of the Hellenic faith to imitate Christian concern for strangers. . . . He therefore instructed the priest to establish hostels for needy strangers in every city and also ordered a distribution of corn and wine to the poor, strangers, and beggars. “For it is disgraceful that, when no Jew ever has to beg, and the impious Galileans [Christians] support not only their own poor but ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us. Teach those of the Hellenic faith to contribute to public service of this sort.”

In more recent history, Christian churches of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries led the charge for the abolition of slavery, again providing a strong apologetic for the Christian faith and visibly embodying Jesus’ mission to proclaim liberty to captives.

Mercy ministry is an opportunity for Christian churches to take the gospel to those most in need, provide the marginalized and oppressed an alternative community centered on Jesus (the church), and show the transformative power of the gospel to the watching world. Moreover, responding to social injustice in our communities is a way the church can practice the charge of Jeremiah 29:7 for God’s people to seek the welfare of the cities where God has placed us, and to obey the call of James to practice “pure religion” (James 1:27) by caring for the most vulnerable.

Chris Sicks knows firsthand that mercy ministry is an effective apologetic for the gospel. A former atheist who rejected many intellectual apologetic arguments, Chris is now a pastor who leads numerous mercy ministry initiatives. He has seen with his own eyes how God uses the church to both help hurting people and to reveal Himself to them and others. In the midst of their suffering, people need to see God as Rescuer, Healer, Comforter, and Savior. Thousands of Christians are already serving the poor and oppressed, and many are also committed to the work of apologetics. Sicks’ intent is to help the church see how deeds of compassion can be a compelling argument for the existence of a loving God.

Chris is not promoting a repackaged Social Gospel. He understands that the gospel cannot be communicated through deeds alone; as Duane Litfin has written, “If it is to be communicated at all, the gospel must be put into words.” In this book, Chris repeatedly emphasizes that deeds of mercy are insufficient in themselves, and do not by themselves form an apologetic. Instead, the combination of deeds of mercy and words of salvation comprise what Chris has called the apologetic of mercy.

Most apologetic strategies target the head. In contrast, the apologetic of mercy begins with the heart. It is often in the midst of our pain that the “God of all comfort” makes Himself known most clearly. This is not a new idea, but it is the pattern of God’s gracious interaction with His people in the Old and New Testaments, and continues in His dealings with us today.

God has placed each of us in a particular place, in relationships with people who have needs. If we ask Him to use us to reveal Himself, we will have the privilege of showing His compassion and love to hurting people. As we make meals, give rides, or provide shelter, we will build relationships. When we share the gospel in the context of a merciful relationship, we speak with authenticity. Our words about God’s love are believable because we have shown God’s love in action and in truth (see 1 John 3:18).

Why You Can Trust Your Bible

Why You Can Trust Your Bible

Critics who doubt the reliability and trustworthiness of the biblical accounts of Jesus’ life have issued a make-or-break challenge to the church. They ask us: “How can we be sure the Bible can be trusted as accurate?”

It’s common to see the argument that the Scriptures we have today aren’t the same as what was written by the apostles in the first century. Such arguments attempt to portray the Bible as unreliable and therefore irrelevant. As we will see, however, these challenges do not stand up to scrutiny.

What About Textual Variants?

The Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—were probably written during the second half of the first century. We don’t actually have any of the original documents (called autographs) in our possession today. Instead, we have copies, often handwritten by scribes to preserve and circulate the words of the apostles so they could be passed around and used in worship services. The fact the original manuscripts were copied shows how important these writings were to local congregations. However, in the process of copying the manuscripts, scribes often made small changes, some of them unintentional and others intentional.

For example, early copies of the Greek New Testament were composed in an ancient style in which words were written in all capital letters with no spaces, punctuation, or paragraph divisions. A classic illustration of this style is the phrase “GODISNOWHERE.” A copyist would have to decide whether the phrase meant “God is now here” or “God is nowhere.” Context would determine the meaning of the phrase, so it’s not surprising a scribe could occasionally get things wrong. Furthermore, scribes sometimes misspelled words, wrote the same word twice when it should have been written once, or skipped over sections of text because the same words occurred later down the page. These are all examples of unintentional changes.

Other times, however, scribes changed the texts they were copying on purpose. This happened for a variety of reasons. They might make grammatical improvements or liturgical changes (such as adding a doxology), or they might eliminate apparent discrepancies, harmonize passages, or make doctrinal changes. However, even Bart Ehrman, a New Testament scholar who argues against the reliability of the Bible, recognizes, “Most of the changes found in our early Christian manuscripts have nothing to do with theology or ideology. Far and away the most changes are the result of mistakes, pure and simple—slips of the pen, accidental omissions, inadvertent additions, misspelled words, blunders of one sort or another.”

Because of the large number of variations in New Testament manuscripts, some argue the words of the New Testament are unreliable. But in fact, the vast number of New Testament manuscripts actually enables us to figure out what the originals said with a great deal of certainty. As Mark Roberts puts it, “Having many manuscripts actually increases the likelihood of our getting back to the original text.” Scholars can compare the various manuscripts containing the same passages of Scripture and determine, on the basis of internal and external evidence, which of the manuscripts most likely get the original wording right.

How Does the New Testament Compare to Other Ancient Documents?

The earliest manuscripts of the works of first-century historians such as Josephus, Tacitus, and Suetonius are dated from the 9th to 11th centuries—more than 800 years after the originals were written. In terms of the number of surviving manuscripts, there are 200 for Suetonius, 133 for Josephus, and 75 for Herodotus.

When we compare these ancient texts to the New Testament, the difference astonishes. For instance, the earliest New Testament manuscript is from around AD 125, while significant portions of the Gospels are represented in manuscripts from the late 2nd to early 3rd century. Whereas the best ancient historical works have 500 to 800 years between the actual date the work was written and the date of the earliest surviving manuscript, there is less than a 100-year gap between the writing of the Gospels and the manuscripts we possess. This difference cannot be overstated.

In addition, the sheer number of Gospel manuscripts we’ve found is staggering in comparison to other ancient works. As Mark Roberts notes, “The number of Gospel manuscripts in existence is about 20 times larger than the average number of extant manuscripts of comparable writings.” This figure doesn’t even represent the hundreds of thousands of quotes from the Gospels in the writings of the early church fathers. With nearly 2,000 manuscripts of the Gospels in hand, it becomes clear that to doubt the reliability of the Gospels is to doubt the reliability of nearly every ancient text ever found.

Scripture Is Trustworthy and Reliable

Because of who God is, and because of what God has done to preserve his Word, we have confidence the events described in Scripture are accurate and historical. This is important because Christianity, unique among world religions, depends on historical events: particularly Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. As J. Gresham Machen writes, “Christianity is based upon an account of something that happened, and the Christian worker is primarily a witness.” Scripture tell us this account, revealing Christianity’s climax—its central, historical, and verifiable event: God’s gracious act of bringing salvation through the cross of Jesus Christ.

The Resurrection Is Not Just A Metaphor

The Resurrection Is Not Just A Metaphor

For Christians, resurrection isn’t just a way of expressing a spiritual truth. We believe that something completely unique in human history happened.

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is a central tenet of the Christian faith. One of the earliest creeds (concise summaries of Christian beliefs), the Nicene Creed, declares that Jesus “for us . . . and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; he suffered and was buried; and the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures.”

More Than A Metaphor

Resurrection is often misunderstood as merely a metaphor for a spiritual afterlife. But as prominent New Testament scholar N.T. Wright explains, the word “resurrection” had a very specific meaning in the ancient world:

“Resurrection” denoted a new embodied life which would follow whatever “life after death” there might be. “Resurrection” was, by definition, not the existence into which someone might (or might not) go immediately upon death; it was not a disembodied “heavenly” life; it was a further stage, out beyond all that. It was not a redescription or redefinition of death. It was death’s reversal.

For Christians, resurrection isn’t just a way of expressing a spiritual truth. We believe that in the first century something happened that was completely unique in human history up to that point: a man actually, physically died; he was buried in a tomb for three days; and then he actually, physically was raised back to life, never to die again.

Without the resurrection, there would be no Christianity, as the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian Christians: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. . . . If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:14, 17). Paul saw the Resurrection as the lynchpin of the Christian faith.

Put bluntly, if Jesus Christ claimed to be the Savior but remains dead in a tomb after a brutal crucifixion, his claims were, and are, meaningless. However, if Jesus did rise from death, then his claims to be God, his bearing the penalty of our sins in our place on the cross, and his teachings about the kingdom of God and life after death are vindicated.

Suffered, Crucified, & Buried

Throughout his ministry, Jesus predicted numerous times that he would be killed and then rise from the dead:

  • “As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, ‘The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.’ And they were greatly distressed.” (Matt. 17:22–23)
  • “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Luke 9:22)
  • “And taking the twelve, [Jesus] said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.’” (Luke 18:31–33)

Around A.D. 33, Jesus’ prediction came true. He was captured, put through a series of false trials under cover of night, and sentenced to death. He was executed by crucifixion, and when the Roman soldiers had verified that he was dead, he was buried in a nearby tomb, with a heavy stone covering the entrance and a Roman guard posted to ensure no interferred with his body.

A New Era Of The Kingdom

His followers gave up hope. But on the morning of the third day, they returned to find the guards gone, the stone rolled away, and the tomb empty. Soon, Jesus began to show himself to his followers, fully and physically alive again. As Paul records, Jesus showed himself to Peter, to the twelve disciples, and even to hundreds of his followers at a time (1 Cor. 15:3–8).

Unlike the pagan religions of the ancient world, Judaism had a belief in bodily resurrection. But it was a resurrection that would occur at the end of time. There was no expectation in Jesus’ culture that one man would be resurrected as a precursor to the general resurrection. Even when Jesus himself predicted his own resurrection, his followers were confused (Luke 9:44–45).

When Jesus was crucified, they were devastated; when he rose from the dead, fully present in flesh and blood again, their whole world was changed. Empowered by the belief that Jesus’ resurrection signaled the start of a new era of God’s kingdom, they went out preaching the good news about what Jesus had accomplished by dying for sins and rising in victory over death.

Death Is Not The End

Jesus’ resurrection is the central miracle of his life. In triumphantly rising from death, just as he promised, he vindicated his claim to be the Son of God, sent to deliver the world from sin and death. His resurrection showed that he had successfully paid the penalty required for human sin and had overcome the curse of death that has held humanity in bondage since the Fall.

His resurrection paves the way for all those who trust him to look forward to a resurrection patterned after his. As Paul writes, “In fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:20–21).

Because Jesus was raised from the dead, Christians live with the hope and expectation that death is not the end for us, because we look forward to being raised like Jesus was and living forever with him.

The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective (Book Highlights)

The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective (Book Highlights)

A Jewish PerspectiveThe Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective

by Pinchas Lapide, translated by Wilhelm C. Linss

Augsburg Publishing, 1983

 


 

The resurrection of Jesus is central to the Christian faith. Without the resurrection, there would be no Christianity, as the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian Christians: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:14).

Historically, Jesus’ resurrection (along with his claims to be the Son of God and the Son of Man) has always been the point of contention that separates Christians and Jews. However, the Orthodox Jewish theologian Pinchas Lapide (1922–1997), in his book The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective, turns that expectation on its head. Though he does not believe Jesus is the Messiah, Lapide does believe that the resurrection of Jesus was a historical event. Recognizing that Jesus and his disciples were faithful Jews, he seeks to understand it from a Jewish perspective.

Foundational Faith

According to Lapide, belief in resurrection was common in Judaism of Jesus’ day. He points out that not only does the Old Testament record several resurrections (or resuscitations; 1 Kings 17:17–24; 2 Kings 4:18–37; 13:20–21), it alludes to the future resurrection for all people in a number of places (Job 19:25–27; Hosea 6:1–2; Ezek. 37:11–14; Dan. 12:2). Individual resurrections provided the basis for the final, general resurrection. Lapide claims, “This certainty of a future resurrection of all and of a possible earlier resurrection of some people especially graced by God was the precondition of the Easter faith of the disciples” (p. 64). Thus, the Jewish faith of the apostles was the foundation of their faith in the risen Christ.

Lapide does see the cross “as a definite pledge of God.”

Though he believes the New Testament embellished some of the facts, Lapide argues that the oldest accounts of Jesus’ resurrection are simple and unexaggerated, which contributes to their reliability: “Instead of exciting Easter jubilation we hear repeatedly of doubts, disbelief, hesitation, and such simple things as the linen cloths and the napkins in the empty tomb” (p. 100). Furthermore, “The best proof for the solid faith in the resurrection is probably the realistic way in which the two oldest Gospels describe the painful death and Jesus’ cry of despair on the cross: ‘And Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed his last’ (Mark 15:37)” (p. 110).

Only 3 explanations

In Lapide’s mind, Jesus’ resurrection and appearances have only three possible explanations. They were either:

  1. A religious myth,
  2. A series of individual personal experiences, or
  3. Historical events.

Though formerly a skeptic of Jesus’ resurrection, re-examining the evidence led Lapide to accept the resurrection as historical fact: “If the defeated and depressed group of disciples overnight could change into a victorious movement of faith, based only on autosuggestion or self-deception—without a fundamental faith experience—then this would be a much greater miracle than the resurrection itself” (p. 126).

Resurrection, Lapide argues, is a hope Christians and Jews share.

Modern explanations of the resurrection that de-historicize the event appear to Lapide “as all too abstract and scholarly to explain the fact that the solid hillbillies from Galilee who, for the very real reason of the crucifixion of their master, were saddened to death, were changed within a short period of time into a jubilant community of believers” (p. 129). If God truly was active in the miraculous events of the Old Testament, then Jesus’ resurrection is not inconceivable.

While Lapide does not see Christ’s work on the cross as accomplishing redemption, he does see it “as a definite pledge of God, as a down payment of further hope for the longed-for complete redemption which we all are still expecting” (p. 136). Moreover, though he thinks Christianity has misinterpreted it, Lapide believes Jesus’ resurrection has “helped advance the divine plan of salvation” because it has “carried the faith in the God of Israel into the whole Western world” (p. 142). The resurrection of Jesus can still provide hope of God’s faithfulness to Jews who are waiting their messiah, Lapide asserts.

A Common Hope

Jesus’ resurrection does not have to be miraculous, according to Lapide. The works of God “do not arbitrarily skip the natural chain of cause and effect like the works of the sorcerer in a fairytale” (p. 150). Resurrection is no more miraculous than is the creation of life through natural birth: “Why should the resurrection of a personal ego after passing through death be more miraculous than the gradual awakening of a human being out of the lifeless matter of a fertilized ovum?” (p. 151). Rather than a supernatural event, the resurrection is a natural event that gives meaning to all of life, and “the hope of resurrection is a reasonable faith which should be sufficient for a meaningful, fulfilling life on earth” (p. 151). Resurrection, Lapide argues, is a hope that Christians and Jews share.

Lapide does not believe the resurrection proves Jesus is the Messiah.

It is unique for a Jewish scholar to accept the resurrection of Jesus as a historical event. Yet as Carl Braaten writes in the introduction, “It is the contradictory interpretation placed on the final 48 hours from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, the decisive events—cross and resurrection—on which the whole of Christianity is based” (pp. 13–14). Christians (and the New Testament) see in these events the revelation of the messianic identity of Jesus, while Jews still look for the Messiah who will establish God’s kingdom. Lapide accepts the resurrection as thoroughly historical, yet he is not a Christian because he does not believe it proves that Jesus is the Messiah.

For Lapide, Jesus is just a member of the great line of patriarchs and prophets who pave the way for the full salvation to be brought about through God’s kingdom. For Christians, the resurrection is God’s miraculous testimony that Jesus is “both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:26), “the Holy and Righteous One . . . the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead” (Acts 3:14–15). We as Christians believe that God “commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30–31).

Is The Bible Trustworthy?

Is The Bible Trustworthy?

There have been many challenges brought by critics who doubt the reliability and trustworthiness of the accounts of Jesus’ life in the Bible. How can we be sure that the Bible we read can be trusted as accurate?

It is common to see the argument that the Scriptures we have today are not the same as what was written by the apostles in the first century. Arguments like this attempt to portray the Bible as unreliable and therefore irrelevant. As we will see, however, these challenges do not stand up to scrutiny.

What About All The New Testament Textual Variants?

The Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—were probably written during the second half of the first century. Unfortunately, we do not actually have any of the original documents (called autographs) in our possession today. Instead, what we have are copies, often hand-written by scribes to preserve and circulate the words of the apostles so they could be passed around and used in worship services. The fact that the original manuscripts were copied shows how important these writings were to local church congregations. However, in the process of copying the manuscripts, the scribes often made small changes, some of them unintentional and others intentional.

For example, early copies of the Greek New Testament were written in an ancient style in which words were written in all capital letters with no spaces, punctuation, or paragraph divisions. A classic illustration of this style is the phrase “GODISNOWHERE.” A copyist would have to decide whether the phrase meant “God is now here” or “God is nowhere.” Context would have to determine the meaning of the phrase, so it is not unsurprising that a scribe could occasionally get things wrong. Furthermore, scribes sometimes wrote the same word twice when it should have been written once (or once when it should have been written twice), skipped over sections of text because the same words occurred later down the page, or misspelled words. These are all examples of unintentional changes.

Other times, however, the scribes changed the texts they were copying on purpose, for a variety of reasons. They might make grammatical improvements or liturgical changes (such as adding a doxology), or they might eliminate apparent discrepancies, harmonize passages, or even make doctrinal changes. However, even Bart Ehrman, a New Testament scholar who argues that the Bible is not reliable, recognizes that “most of the changes found in our early Christian manuscripts have nothing to do with theology or ideology. Far and away the most changes are the result of mistakes, pure and simple—slips of the pen, accidental omissions, inadvertent additions, misspelled words, blunders of one sort or another.”

Because there are a large number of variations in the New Testament manuscripts, some argue that the words of the New Testament are unreliable. But the vast number of New Testament manuscripts actually enables us to figure out what the originals said with a great deal of certainty. As Mark Roberts puts it, “having many manuscripts actually increases the likelihood of our getting back to the original text.” Scholars are able to compare the various manuscripts containing the same passages of Scripture and determine, on the basis of internal and external evidence, which of the manuscripts most likely gets the original wording right.

How Do New Testament Manuscripts Compare To Other Ancient Documents?

The earliest manuscripts of the works of first-century historians such as Josephus, Tacitus, and Suetonius are dated from the 9th–11th centuries, which is over 800 years after the originals were written. In terms of the number of manuscripts that have survived, there are 200 manuscripts of Suetonius, 133 of Josephus, and 75 of Herodotus.

By comparison, when we compare these ancient works to the New Testament, the difference is astonishing. For instance, the earliest New Testament manuscript is from around 125 A.D., while significant portions of the Gospels are represented in manuscripts from the late second- and early third centuries. So, whereas the best ancient historical works have a period of 500–800 years between the actual date the work was written and the date of the earliest surviving manuscript, there is less than a 100-year gap between the writing of the Gospels and the manuscripts we possess.

In addition, the number of manuscripts of the Gospels is staggering in comparison to other ancient works. As Roberts notes, “The number of Gospel manuscripts in existence is about 20 times larger than the average number of extant manuscripts of comparable writings.” This figure does not even represent the hundreds of thousands of quotes from the Gospels in the writings of the early church fathers. We have nearly 2,000 manuscripts of the Gospels alone. This means that to doubt the reliability of the Gospels is to doubt the reliability of nearly every ancient text that we have.

Scripture Is Trustworthy And Reliable

Because of who God is, and because of what God has done to preserve his word, we can have confidence that the events described in Scripture are accurate and historical. This is important because Christianity, unique among world religions, is not primarily founded on principles but on the historical events of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. As John Gresham Machen writes, “Christianity is based upon an account of something that happened, and the Christian worker is primarily a witness.” Scripture reveals the central climax of history: God’s gracious act of bringing salvation through Jesus Christ.

What Is “Apologetics”?

What Is “Apologetics”?

The word “apologetics” comes from the Greek word apologia, which means “the act of making a defense.” In Philippians 1:7, 16, apologia refers to a defense of the gospel, and in 1 Peter 3:15 it refers to a defense of the hope Christians have.

Apologetics is “an activity of the Christian mind which attempts to show that the gospel message is true in what it affirms. An apologist is one who is prepared to defend the message against criticism and distortion, and to give evidences of its credibility.”

 

Defending Christian Belief

One form of apologetics is to defend the gospel from challenges. Defensive apologetics is the defense of the Christian faith by showing when objections to Christianity do not stand. Defensive apologetics addresses objections about the concept of God’s Triunity, the problem of evil, the Resurrection, the reliability of the Bible, and so forth.

For example, negative apologetics is used to rebut the claim that the doctrine of the Trinity “is an Error in counting or numbering; which, when stood in, is of all others the most brutal and inexcusable.” Negative apologetics will show that the doctrine of the Trinity is at least possibly true.

Another example is to defend against the charge that the Bible contains errors, contradictions, or inconsistencies. To give answers to the challenges that Jesus rose from the dead is also defensive apologetics.

 

Giving Reasons to Believe

Another form of apologetics is to offer reasons to believe the gospel. Positive apologetics is the use of arguments and evidences to demonstrate the viability of the Christian faith. Apologetics intends to show, in a positive manner, that the claims of the Christian faith are indeed intellectually defensible and rationally justifiable.

Positive apologetics is making a positive case for the validity and truth of the claims made in Scripture, such as the resurrection of Christ, the existence of God, and the historical reliability of the Bible.

 

Critiquing Unbelief

Another form of apologetics is critiquing unbelief, which combines both the positive and negative forms. Some streams of apologetics seek to show that unbelief is irrational and that holding to views such as relativism will lead to undesirable and irrational conclusions.

For example, holding to relativism entails that no universal ethical norm can be present since there is no objective truth to ground morality. This type of apologetics moves from the critique to a positive construction that shows how the Christian faith provides an alternative and logical worldview that best makes sense of reality.

Explaining how karma is a cruel and devastating belief is another form of critiquing unbelief. In the karma system of belief, if someone is suffering or in pain, they deserve it, and to help them is to go against the cosmic law (dharma) at play.

Another example is the critique that atheism logically leads to moral chaos. On what basis can an atheist say anything (even genocide, sexual assault, or child abuse) is bad or wrong? If ethics is based on opinion or consensus, then morality is determined by whoever has the most power. If nature is “red in tooth and claw” and survival of the fittest is true and good, then domination of one animal over another in any form can’t be called bad or wrong in a naturalistic worldview. Notice that this argument is not saying that atheists are immoral, but that their belief system has no support for objective morality.

 

Apologetics on Mission

Apologetics is something you engage in every time you share your beliefs and convictions with your fellow Christians, with your children, and with non-believers. It is not an irrelevant or formal discipline reserved for intellectuals. Apologetics is an important tool for mission.

 

Apologetics Resources

Here are some great resources for learning more about apologetics:

Defending the Resurrection of Jesus

Defending the Resurrection of Jesus

Of all the teachings of Christianity, no doctrine is more central than the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The truth of the resurrection has been attacked from every angle. New books and television media regularly appear questioning the truth of the resurrection, re-hashing old theories about what happened to Jesus’ body. Since the resurrection is crucial to Christianity, Christians ought to be able to give some answers to the inevitable questions about the truth of the resurrection.

Historically Credible Accounts

The first step in defending the resurrection from its detractors is to establish the fact of the historical events that took place as conveyed in the Gospels. As philosopher William Lane Craig notes in his book Reasonable Faith, “The issue is whether the gospel narratives are historically credible accounts or unhistorical legends.”

The Empty Tomb

One of the easiest parts of the resurrection data to establish is the fact that the tomb is empty. Because the location of Jesus’ burial was known to those living in Jerusalem, it is unlikely that they would have believed the apostles’ claims about the resurrection of Christ if there was not an empty tomb. Jesus’ burial is widely attested in early, independent testimonies, both biblical and extra-biblical.

The fact that women are primary witnesses of the empty tomb in the Gospel accounts is further evidence of their authenticity. This is because, as is often noted, women were not considered reliable witnesses in first-century Jewish culture, so it would have been foolish for the authors to fictionally construct an account involving women in order to gain credibility.

Matthew 28:11–15 speaks of a myth that was spread among the Jews concerning the body of Christ. Apparently, the Jews were saying the disciples stole the body of Christ. This is significant because the Jews did not deny the tomb was empty, but instead sought an alternative explanation to the resurrection. The emptiness of the tomb is a widely attested historical fact.

However, just because the tomb of Christ was empty does not necessarily mean the resurrection happened. There are four alternative hypotheses to the resurrection that have been advanced over the years:

1. The Conspiracy Hypothesis

The conspiracy hypothesis says that the disciples stole the body of Christ and continued to lie about his appearances to them. According to this account, the resurrection was a hoax.

This hypothesis is not commonly held in modern scholarship for several reasons:

  • This hypothesis does not take into account that the disciples believed in the resurrection. It is highly unlikely that numerous disciples would have been willing to give up their lives defending a fabrication.
  • It is unlikely that the idea of resurrection would have entered the minds of the disciples, as such an event was not connected to the Jewish idea of a Messiah. The scholar William Lane Craig writes, “If your favorite Messiah got himself crucified, then you either went home or else you got yourself a new Messiah. But the idea of stealing Jesus’ corpse and saying that God has raised him from the dead is hardly one that would have entered the minds of the disciples.”
  • This hypothesis cannot account for the post-resurrection appearances of Christ.

 

2. The Apparent Death Hypothesis

The second hypothesis attempting to explain away the resurrection is the apparent death hypothesis. This view says Jesus was not completely dead when he was removed from the cross. Once in the tomb, Jesus was revived and escaped, thus convincing the disciples of his resurrection.

This view is difficult to hold for a few reasons:

  • It is unlikely that a half-dead man would have been capable of even getting up to walk, much less moving the huge stone that sealed the tomb, over-powering Roman guards, and fleeing from sight.
  • This theory cannot account for the disciples’ attribution of resurrection to Christ, for if they had seen him after he was revived, they would have merely thought he had never died.
  • It is also foolish to think the Romans, who had perfected the art of executing people, would have let one slip by without ensuring he was dead.
  • Finally, given the physical torture described in the Gospel accounts, it is highly unlikely that Jesus could have survived crucifixion.

 

3. The Wrong Tomb Hypothesis

The wrong tomb hypothesis suggests that the women had gotten lost on their way to Jesus’ tomb and accidentally stumbled upon the caretaker of an empty tomb. When the caretaker said, “Jesus is not here,” the women were so disoriented they fled, their story later being developed into a resurrection myth.

Like the other theories, virtually no reputable scholars hold to this view. There are at least three reasons:

  • First, this theory does not explain the post-resurrection appearances, and it is spurious to think that such a simple mistake would have led a first-century Jew to think a resurrection had happened.
  • In light of the early evidence that is available concerning the location of Jesus’ tomb, it is almost impossible that the women would have confused its location.
  • This hypothesis emphasizes that the caretaker of the tomb said that Christ was not there, but it passes over the next phrase: “He is risen!”

 

4. The Displaced Body Hypothesis

The displaced body hypothesis says Joseph of Arimathea placed Jesus’ body in his own tomb, but later moved it to the criminal’s graveyard. The disciples were not aware that Jesus’ body had been moved and therefore wrongly inferred that he had risen from the dead.

Because of the spurious nature of this theory, virtually no modern scholars hold to it:

  • This theory cannot account for the post-resurrection appearances of Christ or the origin of the Christian faith.
  • It is unclear why Joseph would not have corrected the error of the disciples by simply showing them where he had moved the body of Jesus.
  • The criminal graveyard, most likely, was quite close to the crucifixion site, so it would have made little sense why Joseph would not have simply buried Jesus there in the first place. In fact, it was against Jewish law to allow a body to be moved after it had already been buried.

 

The Post-Resurrection Appearances

In 1 Corinthians, an authentic letter composed by a man acquainted with the first disciples, the Apostle Paul claims that numerous people saw Jesus alive after his death (1 Cor. 15:3-8).

It is fairly indisputable that Jesus actually appeared to the people that Paul mentions. Even the notorious New Testament critic Bart Ehrman admits, “we can say with some confidence that some of his disciples claimed to have seen Jesus alive.”

The gospels all speak of post-resurrection appearances of Christ. It would be quite ridiculous to suggest that each of these events was a hallucination. Few scholars argue, therefore, that on different occasions different groups of people had experiences of seeing Jesus. They therefore question whether the experiences were actual physical, bodily appearances of Christ. However, Paul leaves no room for a merely psychological experience. His theology of the resurrected body ensures that he meant that Christ actually, physically appeared.  

The resurrection is the most plausible explanation for the postmortem appearances of Christ. The alternative—the disciples were hallucinating—says nothing to explain the empty tomb. Nor does it explain the disciples’ belief in the resurrection. In typical psychological postmortem experiences, the person having the experience rarely would think that a dead person actually returned physically to life. As New Testament scholar N.T. Wright argues, postmortem appearances in the ancient world would be more evidence that the person was dead than that he was alive.

The physical resurrection of Jesus proves to be the best explanation for the postmortem appearances described in 1 Cor. 15.

 

The Existence of Christianity

The fact that Christianity started and grew is also evidence for the resurrection. For Jews, the Messiah was viewed as a figure that would be triumphant and rule on David’s throne, not a figure that would be crucified and die.

The resurrection undid the catastrophe of the crucifixion. The Messiah, who had died, is risen! The resurrection validated and verified the claims Jesus had made about his own identity. The origin of Christianity rests solely on the fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

It stands to reason that Jesus Christ did in fact rise from the dead victoriously on the third day after his death. No alternative hypothesis can adequately explain the empty tomb, the postmortem appearances of Jesus, and the origin of the Christian faith.

Why Science Needs The Christian Worldview

Why Science Needs The Christian Worldview

Christians can be confident in a discussion on the nature and use of science, precisely because only the Christian worldview can provide the necessary preconditions for the intelligibility of scientific inquiry. Science requires a significant number of philosophical assumptions just to conduct empirical investigation.

 

BORROWED ELEMENTS?

The non-Christian account of science falters under the weight of numerous internal contradictions. It should be remembered that non-Christians do science (and usually do so very well), but they cannot give an account for the very science they are doing without relying on the “borrowed capital” from the Christian worldview. According to Cornelius Van Til, unbelievers use the good gifts of God, which are spread throughout creation and on which they unknowingly depend in their thought and life, without giving God the glory. Non-Christian scientists are able to avoid utter nihilism and skepticism in science only by being inconsistent with their own worldview and borrowing some elements of God’s revelation.

What are those borrowed elements? What are some of the most important presuppositions without which scientific investigation should prove impossible? A brief list of such presuppositions includes:

 

1. THE UNIFORMITY OF NATURE

The laws, properties, or characteristics of objects and phenomena of a particular class do not vary over distance or time. Nature should be regarded as uniform.

 

2. INDUCTION

Since nature is considered uniform, one may, from a limited number of objects/phenomena of a class, properly induce generalizations about all objects/phenomena of that same class.

 

3. ONTOLOGICAL/EPISTEMOLOGICAL REALISM

Nature has an objective existence as an interdependent system, and is both intelligible and accessible to the human intellect.

 

4. MATHEMATICAL REALISM

Nature can be described accurately by the use of mathematics.

 

5. METHODOLOGICAL, EPISTEMIC, AND ETHICAL VALUES

Examples of these would be the common claims that some methods constitute good science, others bad or pseudo-science; good theories have certain characteristics; and scientists ought to report accurately and honestly.

 

6. THE RELIABILITY OF THE HUMAN MIND AND SENSORY FACULTIES

The human mind and senses “fit” the natural world, and the use of the laws of logic aids discovery of truth and tends to falsify error.

 

7. ONTOLOGICAL/CONCEPTUAL CATEGORIES

Observed phenomena and entities are defined a priori by known classes such as objects, facts, events, etc. and are construed in a scientific tradition as planets, waves, species, etc.

 

8. THE USEFULNESS/ADEQUACY OF HUMAN LANGUAGE TO DESCRIBE NATURE

Nature corresponds to the mind in such a way that human language closely “fits” nature.

 

9. THE EXISTENCE OF SINGULARITIES, ULTIMATE BOUNDARY CONDITIONS, AND BRUTE GIVENS

Certain features/constants of the cosmos are simply taken for granted (eg. the mass of a proton, some values for forces, free acts of moral agents, etc.).

 

THE NECESSARY PRESUPPOSITIONS

My argument is that only the Christian description of the world offers these presuppositions necessary for scientific inquiry. The philosophical preconditions for science are in the pages of the Hebrew and Greek scriptures. According to Scripture, God is the transcendent and almighty Creator of heaven and earth, and everything owes its very existence and character to His creative powers and definition (Genesis 1; Nehemiah 9:6Col. 1:16–17).

He makes particulars in creation the way they are and determines that they will function as they do. According to Psalm 147:5, “His understanding is infinite.” Ephesians 1:11 declares that God sovereignly governs every event that transpires, determining what, where, when, and how anything takes place. This includes the motion of the planets, the molecular world, and the death of a sparrow. Isaiah 40:12–28 celebrates the power, creation, providence, delineating, and directing of Yahweh. God has the freedom and control over the created order as the potter has over the clay (Romans 9:21). Moreover, knowledge is possible because of a corresponding capacity created in us by God.

 

THE UNIFORMITY OF NATURE

The atheist worldview cannot account for the uniformity of nature on which to base the scientific process. David Hume has taught us that to say the future will be like the past is to beg the question. Since the uniformity of nature is an unjustified assumption in the atheistic worldview, there is no basis upon which to engage in scientific activities. Bertrand Russell succinctly states the problem of assuming the uniformity of nature in The Problems of Philosophy:

The problem we have to discuss is whether there is any reason for believing in what is called ‘the uniformity of nature.’ The belief in the uniformity of nature is the belief that everything that has happened or will happen is an instance of some general law to which there are no exceptions… But science habitually assumes, at least as a working hypothesis, that general rules which have exceptions can be replaced by general rules which have no exceptions… Have we any reason, assuming that they (scientific laws) have always held in the past, to suppose that they (scientific laws) will hold in the future.

The problem is that without a basis for the uniformity of nature there is no basis for induction. Russell continues that the business of science is to find uniformities, such as the law of gravitation and the laws of motion. Is it possible to formulate general laws of science in a world with no basis for the uniformity of nature? Russell answers this in the negative by writing the following:

Experience might conceivably confirm the inductive principle as regards the cases that have been already examined; but as regards unexamined cases, it is the inductive principle alone that can justify any inference from what has been examined to what has not been examined. All arguments which, on the basis of experience, argue as to the future or the unexperienced parts of the past or present, assume the inductive principle; hence we can never use experience to prove the inductive principlewithout begging the question. Then we must either accept the inductive principle on the ground of its intrinsic evidence, or forgo all justification of our expectation about the future.

Christians are not left with such a problem, precisely because the uniformity of nature and induction are compatible with the Christian view of the world. God, who is providentially in control of all events, has revealed to humans that we can count on regularities in the natural world. Because of this regularity, the endeavors of science will be fruitful. Science would be impossible without the truth of the Christian worldview.

Naturalism, Knowledge, and History

Naturalism, Knowledge, and History

Naturalism, the philosophical worldview that everything arises from nature and nothing exists beyond it, meaning there’s no such thing as the spiritual realm.  However, this view ultimately leaves one with no justification for trusting one’s own rational faculties, and in so doing, erodes its own credentials. Ronald Nash argues that Naturalism cannot support the common assumption that human rationality corresponds to the objective world:

“Naturalism gives us no reason at all to suppose that our reasoning is valid. Only conscious minds can have plans or purposes, so [given Naturalism] there is no plan or purpose that will ensure that our reasoning will attain truth. Forces that are without our mind might happen to give us powers of valid reasoning, but they equally might happen to give us defective or invalid reasoning powers. And there is no reason to suppose that they would give us powers of valid reasoning rather than defective powers. . . . . If I pose a mathematical problem and throw some dice, the dice may happen to fall into a pattern which gives the answer to my problem. But there is no reason to suppose that they will. Now in the Chance view, all our thoughts are the result of processes as random as a throw of dice. In the Determinist view, all our thoughts result from processes that have as little relation to our minds as the growth of a tree. . . .Naturalism’s major problem, then, is explaining how mindless forces give rise to minds, knowledge, and sound reasoning. But every Naturalist wants others to think that his Naturalism is a consequence of his sound reasoning” (pp. 258–259).

Naturalism is self-referentially absurd and is unable to make sense of rationality, a necessary precondition for conducting historical inquiry.

NATURALISM CAN’T PROVIDE RELIABLE HISTORICAL KNOWLEDGE

Naturalism is unable to make sense of any of the epistemological ingredients essential for historical knowledge. Two of those ingredients—the uniformity of nature and the principle of induction—illustrate the point.

Historical inquiry would prove impossible if one were forbidden to assume that nature remains uniform over time and that one may accurately induce a generalization about an entire class of objects from a relatively small set, provided one exercises due caution in so extrapolating. Historians do so when they assume that evidencefrom the past can accurately reflect it to our minds under present conditions.

They further assume—and must assume in order to do history—that humans share a common nature, that time runs in one direction only, and that the objective world is both real and intelligible.

Yet, given a Naturalistic world-view, one cannot give an account for such necessary assumptions. Why should time not run in cycles in a dynamic world, as many ancients supposed? What warrants the assumption that universals permeate the universe in a materialistic evolving cosmos? What guarantee is there that the past resembles the future, or that the present is analogous to the past, and why does the flowing evolutionary process not destroy such an analogy? Why should historical investigation even have value, as something more than a waste of time? Ultimately, the Naturalist cannot provide a coherent answer to these questions. The Naturalistic worldview lacks explanatory power. Moreover, it cannot provide an internally coherent account for the things one needs to conduct any sort of intelligible activity.

THEISM EXPLAINS WHAT NATURALISM CAN’T

A theist, however, can. The theist can account for the validity of induction by acknowledging the universals built into the cosmos by the Creator. The theist can also account for the belief that the future will resemble the past because the Sustainer is faithful and does not change (Malachi 3:6Hebrews 13:8). The theistic worldview offers a ready explanandum for the intelligibility of human experience. I. Howard Marshall notes the arbitrary character of historical investigation on the Naturalistic view (emphasis, mine):

“. . . all historical study involves elements of imagination and faith in that the historian, possessed of only partial and sometimes enigmatic evidence, has to exercise a measure of faith in the reliability of the evidence, the validity of historical study, and the possibility of constructing a model which will account satisfactorily for the evidence. Unless the historian is prepared to take some leaps in the dark, he will not be able to make any progress at all.”

The final refutation of a Naturalistic view of history, then, derives from the fact that, without the theistic worldview (as opposed to the Naturalistic worldview), one cannot make sense of the necessary preconditions for the historical knowledge of anything.