A Ten-Year Project – Part 2

Before deciding what topics and issues to cover in my multi-volume critique of Christianity, I want to look over some lists of common topics in (a) Christian Apologetics, (b) Systematic Theology, and (c) Philosophy of Religion.

I looked through the table of contents of a number of handbooks on Christian Apologetics to come up with a list of common topics:


NOTE: WIAC = Why I am a Christian, edited by Geisler & Hoffman

Based on this quick survey of a few handbooks of Christian Apologetics, I came up with a list of a dozen topics:

1. Apologetics/Faith & Reason
2. The Existence & Nature of God
3. Creation & Evolution
4. Miracles
5. Evil & Suffering
6. The Divinity of Jesus
7. The Resurrection of Jesus
8. The Bible
• Historical Reliability of the Bible
• Scientific Reliability of the Bible
• Inspiration of the Bible
9. Life after Death/Heaven & Hell/Salvation
10. Christianity vs. Other Religions
11. Objective Truth
12. Morality/Ethics

I also took a look at a few works of Systematic Theology by Evangelical Christian theologians:


From this brief survey, I came up with a dozen topics for Systematic Theology:

1. Knowledge of God
2. The Bible
3. Attributes of God
4. God’s creation
5. Sin
6. Jesus
7. The Holy Spirit
8. Salvation
9. The Christian Life
10. Man
11. The Church
12. The End of History

For an excellent and inpiring example of a critique of a bit of Systematic Theology, see Theodore Drange’s article “Why Resurrect Jesus?” in The Empty Tomb, edited by Robert Price and Jeff Lowder (Prometheus Books, 2005).

NOTE: BOICE’s stuff on “Time and History” appeared disjointed and unfocused, and there does not appear to be a clear parallel in other Systematic Theology books, so I set that topic aside and substituted “Man” for topic #10 (pulling it out of where it was lumped in with other items under “God’s creation”, topic #4).

Here is a comparison chart of common Theology topics with common Apologetics topics:

Based on this comparison chart, if I had to choose between covering the topics of Systematic Theology and the topics of Christian Apologetics, I would go with Apologetics. Those topics seem more focused on what is central and most important, especially in terms of evaluating the truth or the rationality of Christianity.

  • edwardtbabinski

    Nobody is an expert in everything. If you can study just one particular topic and call out Christian apologists on that single topic so thoroughly that they finally admit there’s a difficulty, consider yourself blessed. Even if they admit there is a difficulty, in the end they can still resort to “holy mystery,” or admitting “‘God’s hiddenness,’ i.e., because He wanted to leave room for plausible deniability and free will,” etc.

    • Bradley Bowen

      “Nobody is an expert in everything.”

      True.

      I want to be an expert on just one subject:
      the reasons for and against Evangelical Christianity.

      Ten years might not be enough time, but I have had 30 years to get warmed up for this project, so ten years might be enough time for me. If I am able to retire in the next year or two (which appears to be possible), then I believe ten years is all I will need (OK, maybe eleven).

      • Blue Devil Knight

        Loftus was right to say go with your strength. E.g., if you are a biologist, write about science. If you have expertise in meta-ethics, go more after that. Not just because you have more expertise, but it will be more do-able, and you will be much less likely to fall into stupid errors because you are so far outside your expertise.

        • Bradley Bowen

          I will definitely have a philosophy/critical thinking focus in most of my critique of Christianity. However, Christian Apologetics cuts across multiple disciplines: philosophy, history, biblical studies, theology, physical science, biology, and human science. To adequately address the issues in Christian Apologetics will require more than just philosophical argument and analysis.

          One of the reasons I love philosophy of religion is that it cuts across several sub-disciplines of philosophy: logic, epistemology, metaphysics, ethics (metaethics, ethical theory, and applied ethics), philosophy of language, philosophy of history, philosophy of mind. I don’t see how one could ever get bored with philosophy of religion, because it is so rich and so varied.

          One of the reasons I have enjoyed thinking about Christian Apologetics for many years is that it cuts across several disciplines (see list above). I don’t see how one could ever get bored thinking about the topics and issues in Christian Apologetics.

        • Bradley Bowen

          I think you have a good point about risk of stupid errors.

          One way to mitigate that risk would be to find some skeptics with expertise in the areas in which I am a novice, and ask for their feedback on draft articles.

  • Keith Parsons

    The best sort of critique would be a lengthy series of books, each written by an expert. The recently published Debating Christian Theism, edited by Moreland, Meister, and Sweis, has forty topics. I had the privilege of addressing the one on “heaven and hell.” It would be great having an atheist or at least non-evangelical book on each of these topics. Of course, I have no idea who would publish such a series.

    • Bradley Bowen

      The dozen topics in Christian Apologetics and the dozen topics in Systematic Theology are very broad and encompass several issues. For example, Topic #3 in my list for Systematic Theology is: The Attributes of God. In Swinburrne’s book The Coherence of Theism, he devotes the entire middle section of the book, several chapters, just to clarifying several divine attributes, considering objections to their coherence, and showing their coherence.

      Here are the topic headings from Debating Christian Theism (Looks like a great collection of articles):

      Cosmological Argument
      Teleological Argument
      Ontological Argument
      A Moral Argument
      Argument from Consciousness
      The Coherence of Theism
      The Problem of Evil

      Evolution and Belief in God
      The Nature of Human Beings

      Miracles and Christian Theism
      Science and Christian Faith
      Doctrine of the Trinity
      The Atonement
      The Incarnation
      Historical Reliability of NT
      The Historical Jesus
      The Resurrection of Jesus
      Only One Way to God?
      Heaven and Hell

  • Bradley Bowen

    Whatever set of topics I settle on, whatever the overall logic or organization might be, there are a few topics that I feel compelled to cover (“The power of Christ compels you! The power of Christ compels you!”):

    The Trilemma

    Messianic Prophecy

    The Resurrection of Jesus

    These are three key arguments of Christian Apologetics, and they all relate to the Christian claim that “Jesus is God” or “Jesus is the divine Son of God”, a central Christian belief.

    In order to adequately cover the three apologetic arguments mentioned above, there are at least a few other topics that must be dealt with:

    The historical reliability of the NT (esp. the Gospels)
    The historicity of Jesus (i.e. Did Jesus exist?)
    Miracles – What is required to establish that a miracle has occured?

    I also feel compelled to cover what, for me, is one of the key arguments against Christianity:

    1. Jesus promoted prayer to, obedience to, and worship of, Jehovah.
    2. Jehovah is a false god.
    3. Anyone who promotes prayer to, obedience to, and worship of a false god is a false prophet.
    Therefore,
    4. Jesus was a false prophet.

    Even if I don’t attempt a comprehensive critique of Evangelical Christian theology, I feel compelled to cover at least the core ideas of Evangelical Christian theology, which are contained in the Gospel (i.e. John 3:16, The Four Spiritual Laws, The “Romans Road”).

    I do want to be comprehensive and systematic, but more importantly, I want to be sure to do a careful and in-depth critique of what is most important, most significant, and most central to Evangelical Christianity.

    The divinity of Jesus is clearly a central belief of Christianity (both Evangelical and Catholic), and the Gospel (as understood by Evangelicals) is central to Evangelical Christianity.

    So far, there are seven topics in Christian Apologetics that I feel compelled to cover, and a few topics (four?) in Evangelical Theology that I feel compelled to cover. So, I already have a total of eleven big topics, just for starters!

    I suppose I could cover one topic per year, and finish my analysis of these critical topics in eleven years. If that is all that I can manage to do, that would be very satisfying to me, and I believe it would be very useful to others who are interested in seriously examining the reasons for and against Evangelical Christianity.

    Hmmmm. I have not even touched on the existence and nature of God in the above topics. Might need to squeeze those topics in somewhere…

  • Bradley Bowen

    I’m clearly leaning towards the topics of Christian Apologetics, as opposed to Systematic Theology. This is both a matter of my own personal interest in the topics and issues of Christian Apologetics, and also a matter of wanting to focus on what is most central and important in Evangelical Christian thinking.

    Here is my preliminary list of topics/issues for Evangelical Christian Apologetics:

    I. JESUS (Christian Apologetics)

    1. Did Jesus exist?

    2. Is the NT historically reliable?

    3. How should we determine whether a miracle has occurred?

    4. How should we determine whether Jesus is the divine Son of God?

    5. Is the Trilemma a strong argument?

    6. The Messianic Prophecy Argument

    a. Is the Messianic Prophecy Argument a strong argument?

    b. If Jesus was the Messiah, what does this imply about the claim that Jesus was the divine Son of God?

    7. The Resurrection of Jesus

    a. Is the case for the Resurrection of Jesus a strong case?

    b. If Jesus did rise from the dead, what does this imply about the claim that Jesus was the divine Son of God?

    8. False Prophet Argument

    a. Is the argument that Jesus was a False Prophet a strong argument?

    b. If Jesus was a false prophet, what does this imply about the claim that Jesus was the divine Son of God?

    9. Morally Flawed Person Argument

    a. Is the argument that Jesus was a Morally Flawed Person a strong argument?

    b. If Jesus was a morally flawed person, what does this imply about the claim that Jesus was the divine Son of God?

    10. If Jesus was the divine Son of God, what would this imply about the truth of Evangelical Christianity?

  • Bradley Bowen

    I don’t have a plan yet, but I do have a strategy.

    I will build a plan to write a multi-volume critique of Christianity that will cover the ten key topics (outlined below) in Christian Apologetics over the next ten years.

    I also want to cover a broad range of topics in philosophy of religion focused on the evaluation of theism and atheism. But it is probably too much to tackle both Christian Apologetics topics on Jesus and all of the philosophy of religion topics related to the coherence and truth of theism even over a ten year period.

    So, I”m going to put God on the back burner, and give highest priority to arguments about Jesus. I will still continue to work on arguments about God, but will not worry about the schedule and timing of my efforts on those topics.

    If I manage to make steady progress on the Jesus topics for a couple of years, then I will think about putting together a project plan for working on the God topics in parallel with the Jesus topics. If I am struggling after a couple of years to stay on track to cover the Jesus topcs in ten years, then I will keep God on the back burner, until Jesus’ goose is fully cooked.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Dianelos Dianelos Georgoudis

    Bradley,

    The grandest themes in Christianity are

    1) The Trinity, i.e. the nature of God informed by the incarnation of the second hypostasis.

    2) Theodicy, i.e. the reason for creation and the meaning of atonement. In principle theodicy belongs to all three of the great monotheistic religions, but I have the impression that serious work is only done in the context of Christianity, perhaps because of the central role that Christ holds in the atonement.

    Incidentally, I suppose the ten volumes series you suggest kind of challenges Dawkins’s idea that theology is not worth studying and that believing in God is like believing in fairies.

    In this context, here is a question to ponder: God is really such a wild idea, and Christianity in particular is so much wilder still, that it is kind of remarkable that they should prove to be so resilient at the highest levels of philosophical discourse. I mean among all the non-theistic possible worlds the vast majority should be such that the God idea wouldn’t survive middle ages, except perhaps as some kind of superstition believed by the uneducated – like, say, astrology. Yet in the actual world the opposite appears to be the case. It looks like theism is hard to kill, perhaps supernaturally so.

    • Bradley Bowen

      Dianelos said:
      Incidentally, I suppose the ten volumes series you suggest kind of challenges Dawkins’s idea that theology is not worth studying and that believing in God is like believing in fairies.

      In this context, here is a question to ponder: God is really such a wild idea, and Christianity in particular is so much wilder still, that it is kind of remarkable that they should prove to be so resilient at the highest levels of philosophical discourse.
      ==========================
      I’m planning four books to cover ten topics about Jesus (in Christian Apologetics). I would expect to need at least another three or four books to cover the key topics about God (in Philosophy of Religion).

      I believe that Systematic Theology is worth studying because it is an attempt to lay out Christian beliefs in a clear and logical way. I’m interested in refuting Evangelical Christianity, or at least pointing out what appear to me to be logical and factual errors in Evangelical Christianity. I don’t want to refute a weak and confused version of Evangelical Christianity, because then I would be attacking something of a Straw Man. I want to critique a strong and clear version of Evangelical Christianity, so that my objections are more likely to go to the heart of the matter.

      Believing in God can be analogous to believing in fairies even if the idea of God is much more intersting and fruitful to think about than fairies.

      Philosophy of Religion, as I pointed out in another comment, is interesting in part because it touches on every major area of philosophy: epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, logic, philosophy of language, philosophy of science, philosophy of mind, etc.

      The idea of ‘God’ is fundamentally the idea of a unique sort of person. The concept of ‘person’ is certainly worth some serious thought and reflection. As a person, God has a mind, beliefs, a will, purposes, intentions, goals, and God performs actions in accordance with his beliefs and purposes. All of this relates back to human persons, and so is worth thinking about if for no other reason than it has relevance to human beings.

      But the idea of God also pushes conceptual boundaries, because God is supposed to be a perfect person, an infinite person, an unlimited person. The ideas of omniscience, omnipotence, and perfect goodness, have philosophical interest because these are ideas that push us not only to clarify the concepts of power, knowledge, freedom, and goodness, but they also push us to find the logical limits of these concepts. What is infinite power? infinite knowldege? infinite freedom? infinte goodness? These are the sorts of questions that stretch our minds and imaginations, and thus are excellent for philosphical reflection.

      The idea of God is also philosophically interesting because it involves some apparent contradictions that call for further thought: God is a bodiless person, but how can a person exist without a body? God knows everything that will happen in the future, but how can my actions (or God’s actions) be free if God knows everything I’m ever going to do, even before I was born? God is all powerful, so he should be able to kill himself, but God is immortal so doesn’t that mean he cannot kill himself? God is perfectly free, so does that mean that God is free to do evil? If God is not free to do evil, then what credit is it to God that he always does what is good?

      These apparent logical contradicitons might prove that God is even more silly to believe in that fairies, since fairies seem not to involve such contradictions. But in exploring these logical problems, we can make interesting philosophical discoveries about knowledge, power, freedom, and goodness.

  • Bradley Bowen

    OK. I now have a DRAFT plan to write four books in 10.5 years:

    http://crossexamination.blogspot.com/2013/10/i-have-draft-high-level-plan-for.html

    My posts on Ehrman’s book (Did Jesus Exist?) have neglected the most obvious argument for the existence of Jesus:

    1. According to the NT, Jesus existed.

    2. The NT is historically reliable.

    Therefore,

    3. It is very likely that Jesus existed.

    Although I do not plan to officially start my ten-year project until sometime next year, I will begin to examine the above argument this month, as I find time, on my own blog site:

    http://crossexamination.blogspot.com/


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