the best defense of the Christian faith is . . .

the best defense of the Christian faith is . . . July 29, 2015

TBTMSI’m not a big fan of Christian apologetics. Nothing personal, and I know some smart people who engage in it.

It’s just not for me.

I’ve never seen an argument for why Christianity is true that can’t be met by some alternative argument.

And I am not interested in whether Christianity is “reasonable”–a lot of things are reasonable and I don’t center my life around them.

Nor am I interested in whether Christianity is probable or possible–a lot of things are probable and/or possible but I don’t dwell on them.

The very notion of “Christian apologetics” presumes that the intellect is the primary place of engaging the truth of Christianity.

And that hasn’t worked very well.

A burden of (at least western) Christian apologetic isn’t so much in failing to show the wider world that Christianity works intellectually, but in presuming that the intellect is how Christianity works.

I’m not against the engagement of intellect and faith. Not at all.

But our arguments are constructed after the fact, after we believe, not in order to believe.

Belief is first. Intellect follows.

The problem I have with apologetics is that that order is reversed.

The best apologetic isn’t having a better intellectual system.

Nor do we persuade others with fear of divine retribution if we don’t agree and the promise of an afterlife if we do.

The best apologetic is where there is payoff now. 

How Christians live positively toward others.

What difference this “belief system” makes in our global community.

Living out the notion that, “The church must recapture its identity as the only organization in the world that exists for the sake of its non-members.”

That is the apologetic that can work, and that is much harder than a string of arguments.

We are the apologetic.

Proverbs describes a life before God as a way, and path, a road–not a classroom or think tank.

The best apologetic is one where words give a narrative for our path, not where words are left alone to construct that narrative.

. . . sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence. . .  (1 Peter 3:15)

Not, “Be ready to out-debate those who disagree with you.”

But, “Give an gentle account for what drives you, for why you do what you do.”

A faith that acts fearlessly well toward the other–regardless of who that other is–is the best apologetic.

Following daily the Christian path for all to see.

Showing that this Jesus stuff works. That there’s payoff. Now.

All the rest we can talk about later . . . after we’ve earned the right to.


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  • Bev Mitchell

    Amen! Well said, and needs saying.

  • On any other blog, I would have guessed this article’s title to end with “a good offense.”

    This is great and speaks to something I’ve been stewing on the past couple of months as well. It’s all fine and good to evangelize, but what are we calling people into? Shouldn’t we be a Spirit-filled kingdom living out the life of Jesus Christ such that we are compelling to others by our very existence?

    • Yes! That is the Christian witness – faith manifest in our lives. I wish we would stop proselytizing and focus on witnessing instead.

  • Hisprisoner

    Romans 10:17 (KJV) So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

    • peteenns

      But is “what is heard” a defense of an intellectual system or more like what I cite in 1 Peter?

      • Hisprisoner

        Matthew 10:34-40 (KJV) Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.
        For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.
        And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.
        He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
        And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.
        He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.
        He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.

        • peteenns

          Well, that’s two proof texts in one morning.

          Throughout this thread, any Bible verses that are simply cited without (1) supporting argumentation for the point the commenter wishes to make with that text, and (2) without showing how the text is relevant to the post will be deleted.

          Trading proof texts is a waste of time.

          • Ye shall not round the corners of your heads. – Lev. 19:27

            Deal with THAT, foo.

          • Mark K

            Uh oh, I already rounded. That’s not the unforgivable sin, I hope.

        • andre_lefebvre

          I hate it when people just keep splashing Bible verses without saying anything else. Please, make a full sentence, respond, explain why you post those verses. Be civil and relational. This is a good example of what this article means…

          • Andrew Dowling

            Here here!

  • Johnny Laguna

    I don’t believe “apologetic” can function as a noun. The word you want is “apologia”.

    • peteenns

      It was used as a noun throughout my seminary life and I see it regularly.

      • Johnny Laguna

        Which, of course, doesn’t make it any more correct than the ubiquity of the Confederate flag in the south makes it acceptable. 🙂 I’m afraid using “apologetic” as a noun is the product of a double abomination: the initial misconstrual of “apologetics” as a plural denoting the collection of particular apologia which, in turn, are referred to individually by what is taken to be the singular form: this apologetic, that apologetic, etc. The error is akin to taking “mathematics” to be a plural and the calculation of a sum to be “a mathematic”.

        Regardless, “apologia” sounds cooler anyway, so there’s always that. 😀

        • peteenns

          I agree: apologia has the advantage of not only being grammatically correct but alienating a lot of people for not knowing their grammar 😉 (I’m kidding, of course).

          • Johnny Laguna

            I prefer to think of it as simply putting good (grammatical) behavior into practice for all to see, much as you are counseling us all to do as Christians in your very nice post. Why hide your light under a bushel? 😉

  • Carter The Yancey

    Makes perfect sense. After all, “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.” It’s actually quite impossible to win people to Christ through “Cleverness of speech.” To have confidence that your faith is reasonable is good, but to assume that faith is won through reason is not quite right. Reason can open one’s mind to the possibility of Christ as Lord, but only the spirit can open the door to salvation through Christ our Lord.

  • Kim Fabricius

    Ah, St. Anselm of Canterbury (c.1033-1109): “I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order that I may understand” (credo ut intelligam).

    Famously, Karl Barth radicalised Anselm’s “faith seeking understanding” by rejecting all apologetics as a form of natural theology, suggesting that the “theme [of the God of grace] is automatically lost when the apology succeeds” (rather like a successful operation that kills the patient).

    But what I think you’re onto here, if you like, is an argument from action, along the lines of Tertullian (c.160-c.225) imagining pagans looking at the church and saying, “Look at how these Christian love one another!” — and, indeed, love those who aren’t Christians, love even their enemies. This perception may not, in itself, persuade one of the truth of faith, but it might, at least, invite, impel one to think, “I gotta check this out.” Of course, if actions speak louder than words, words usually, and rightly, accompany and interpret actions.

    One thing is for sure: nothing turns a non-Christian off Christianity like Christians (though they speak with the eloquence of angels and argue with the reason of logicians) behaving like jerks.

  • Orthodoxdj

    I like your work and blog posts, but here’s an instance where I have to disagree. Apologetics is necessary. It’s not necessary for every person who becomes a Christian, but people ask questions, as they should. Answering those questions is engaging in apologetics.

    • No, I don’t think so. Apologetics is providing people with the same answer, regardless of the question.

      • peteenns

        Typically, apologetics is demonstrating the reasonableness of what you believe and the unreasonableness –or less-reasonableness–of what others believe. I find these arguments quite boring, and too difficult at all to derail with a probing question or two.

        • Chris Falter

          Or *not* too difficult to derail with a probing question or two?

      • Orthodoxdj

        You feel no obligation to explain why your beliefs are true, or are at least reasonable? Do you tell people to believe what you say about Christ “just because”?

    • Andrew Dowling

      The problem with apologetics is that it’s claiming certainty where certainty doesn’t exist.

      • David Jentsch

        I may be missing something but I know of no credible apologist that is claiming certainty. I have always understood apologetics to make faith reasonable or more probable than not. Claiming certainty is far-fetched and like I said I know of no notable apologists who claims they have proved the truthfulness of Christianity.

        • peteenns

          No, they wouldn’t be that foolhardy, but they do claim to have proved that their faith system is the MOST reasonable, the one MOST worthy of intellectual assent. That’s why they’re in the business. It amounts to the same thing: “What we believe is reasonable and what you believe is chaotic.”

          The apologetics of, say, a C. S. Lewis, for example, is of a very different sort–one that poses issues of meaning and then tells the Christian story in a compelling way.

          I think much of this revolves around the inerrantist paradigm. An apologetic not beholden to that has a very different flavor–and more healthy–flavor.

          • David Jentsch

            I personally do not hold to inerrancy( if you could define it that would be helpful) but yes I do think that Christianity is the most reasonable religion. Why is that a crazy thing? Of all the religions one can be the most reasonable, why couldn’t there be? And yes CS Lewis is always a breath of fresh air.

    • No_6

      Apologetics defends the concept of one’s own being “right” about what they believe. Answering questions about faith isn’t equivalent with engaging in apologetics.

      • Orthodoxdj

        This sounds like a definition debate.

  • Proverbs describes a life before God as a way, and path, a road–not a classroom or think tank.”

    Funny how simple but true it is.

    The irony of this question doesn’t escape me: I’ve been curious about the Wisdom texts in the OT/FT, and the view of life as a way you find in the OT/FT — best place to start in understanding that better?

    • Chris Falter

      The Evolution of Adam has a nice chapter on Adam and Eve as a Jewish account of the importance of wisdom and how to acquire it. And how not to. Check it out!

      You’re welcome, Pete.

      • peteenns

        Do I owe you money now?

  • James Ellis

    “The church must recapture its identity as the only organization in the world that exists for the sake of its non-members.”

    “That is the apologetic that can work, and that is much harder than a string of arguments.”

    While I agree with just about every other part this stood out to me as the wrong identity of the church.
    I do not totally disagree but there are many organizations especially secular that could claim to exist for non members.
    We are called to be ambassadors of the ministry of reconsiliation. That requires both good works and truthful words.
    I fear as many in the church are seeking the need to do more in the lives of others we may only become known for our works and not the Gospel message of salvation and reconsiliation with God.

  • dfrese

    Your most inflammatory post yet

  • eeenok

    you are absolutely right about the failure of apologetics-first, but yeah good luck with that. that faith that people start their belief careers with is almost always based on trusting some adult’s insistence that all this stuff has been so thoroughly verified that it’s an absolute certainty. t-shirted pastors will give a fiery garbled account of the current champion apologists (and fail to mention the competing theories they learned about in seminary) and parents will wave at their lee strobel books and amateurishly tell their children how it’s all been worked out in mathematical detail. this is something of a necessity in those branches of christianity (commonly evangelicalism) where it would otherwise make no sense for god to be just … so … INFURIATED by people’s non-belief. fortunately for these branches, very few can be bothered studying the arguments of their opposition to discover that the certainty of apologetics is profoundly misguided, and provability is certainly also a tacit understanding that runs through a lot of the less earnest versions of christianity. but as for those more honest branches of christianity that cannot provide their flock with the concrete certainty that simplistic worshippers enjoy … well, good luck with that, too. it seems to me that most people can’t really see the point engaging in something that has the exact same evidence basis as the mythology of any completely different religion or denomination. i tip my hat to any church that maintains its numbers in this context, but the future seems grim. although there does seem to be a bit of a rebound lately, where people who have stopped trusting the anti-intellectualism of fundamentalist christianity are starting to explore new homes in the older traditions. this is a bit nice imo, but i can’t see an emerging tsunami

  • LifeisCrazyGood

    “All the rest we can talk about later . . . after we’ve earned the right to.”

    This is beautiful, and so foreign to the pushy baptists I grew up with, and worshipped with for so long. If only they could see there’s another way. (I was right along beside them in my early years.)

    Changing to another topic, though; while your approach to “apologetics” is certainly a refreshing take, wouldn’t it still require one to *intellectually* accept the entirety of the Bible? As a recent agnostic, slipping slowly towards atheism, this is just something I cannot do. So. Many. Contradictions.

    • acousticmom

      “Intellectually accepting the Bible” means vastly different things to different people (i.e. Enns vs. Ham). If we have to understand everything and sweep the contradictions and weird stuff under the rug, I’d check out, too. I just don’t think the pretense of certainty is necessary. Or helpful. Or honest.

    • Dan Arnold

      As I posted over on RJS’ post on Jesuscreed a little bit ago, doesn’t that depend a bit on what you think the Bible is? But what if there were a way to value the Bible and accept that it could contradict itself? That it is polyphonic; at time harmonious and at other times harshly discordant?

      Shalom uvrecka,

      • LifeisCrazyGood

        Then how would one determine which parts to accept, and which parts were ok to ignore?

        I’d love to read your response to the article you mention. Can you provide a link?

        • Dan Arnold


          Here the link to RJS’ post about contradictions.

          In terms of which parts to accept and which to ignore, I don’t necessarily want to ignore any of it. Rather I seek to understand how it can point me to God, embodied in Jesus. To do that I seek to understand the Bible better in its ancient and often very alien context. My question for you is how do (or did) you know which parts to accept? Do you wear clothes with mixed fabrics? What about charging interest? Is the mustard seed really the smallest seed? What about that rock following Israel around? Do you employ the method of determining if a woman has cheated on her husband spelled out in Numbers 5? If the Bible says it, must we do it? Or are there reasons for what it says and should those reasons be our guide?

          It seems to me we already have ways of prioritizing the Bible. If that’s the case, what’s the role of the Spirit? One of the things I find remarkable is that for Paul, it is the Spirit that grounds all knowledge (cf, James Dunn’s Theology of Paul the Apostle), not the scriptures, despite Paul’s obvious reverence for them.

          I realize that going down the road I’m on brings up other difficulties. Things are by no means cut and dried. And I’m not saying I may not walk away from faith entirely at some point. But for now, seeing the Bible as a collection of ancient stories describing a people’s understanding of God and then the radical change in that same people’s perspective introduced by Jesus gives me hope that I won’t have to walk away.

          I don’t mean to bombard you with questions and this conversation would be far better in a restaurant than online. But I really am interested in hearing how you’ve wrestled with the questions you have. I’m not an apologist. Trying to explain, much less justify God is way out of my league. I’m simply a fellow traveler who has been fortunate enough to have a small group of friends with whom I can share my own struggles with.

          Shalom uvrecka,

        • Dan Arnold

          Hi Life,

          I thought I had posted this last week, but I guess it never went through. My apologies for the much delayed response.

          Here the link to RJS’ post about contradictions.

          In terms of which parts to accept and which to ignore, I don’t necessarily want to ignore any of it. Rather I want to understand how it can point me to God, embodied in Jesus. To do that I try and understand the Bible better in its ancient and often very alien context.

          My question for you is how do (or did) you know which parts to accept? Do you wear clothes with mixed fabrics? What about charging interest? Is the mustard seed really the smallest seed? What about that rock following Israel around? Do you employ the method of determining if a woman has cheated on her husband spelled out in Numbers 5? If the Bible says it, must we do it? Or are there underlying reasons for what it says and should those reasons be our guide?

          It seems to me we already have ways of prioritizing the Bible’s narrative. If that’s the case, what’s the role of the Spirit? One of the things I find remarkable is that for Paul, it is the Spirit that grounds all knowledge (cf, James Dunn’s Theology of Paul the Apostle), not the scriptures, despite Paul’s obvious reverence for them.

          I realize that going down the road I’m on brings up other difficulties. Things are by no means cut and dried. And I’m not saying I may not walk away from faith entirely at some point. But for now, seeing the Bible as a collection of ancient stories describing a people’s understanding of their interactions with God and then the radical change in that same people’s perspective introduced by Jesus gives me hope that I won’t have to.

          I don’t mean to bombard you with questions and this conversation would be far better over a meal than online. But I really am interested in hearing how you’ve wrestled with the questions you have. I’m not an apologist. I am in no way qualified to defend or justify God. But I am fortunate enough to have a small group of friends that I can share own my struggles with.

          Shalom uvrecka,

  • Jameson Graber

    Well this is certainly a good antidote for the kind of apologetics which focus on the “battle of ideas” between Christians and nonchristians. But one thing you don’t mention is the need for Christians themselves to be convinced. Maybe I’m just speaking for myself, here, but I think it’s a daily struggle to be sure that I really do want to center my life around this Jesus fellow–that I’m not just giving into wishful thinking or allowing inertia to keep from “outgrowing” what I was taught as a child. I suppose the “proof by actions” idea applies here as well, but at some point questions about beliefs are crucial. If Jesus really didn’t rise from the dead–if I became convinced of that–I would be very sad, and I would spend a lot of time thinking about what really is worth fighting for in this world.

    • Mark K

      But it’s no fun builiidng a life around a guy who was always telling people to put others before ourselves, and backed it up by subnmitting to that cross you mention. It’s way more fun to be right!

      • Jameson Graber

        I suppose there are dangers to certainty, but there are dangers to doubt, as well. Maybe I’m just not a naturally good enough person, but I find that the more uncertain I am of my faith, the less prepared I am to live selflessly. I mean, sure, my polite bourgeois lifestyle comes pretty naturally, but when it comes to the hard stuff, I need more certainty, not less.

  • AlanCK

    “I have come to feel that the primary reality of which we have to take account in seeking for a Christian impact on public life is the Christian congregation. How is it possible that the gospel should be credible, that people should come to believe that the power which has the last word in human affairs is represented by a man hanging on a cross?

    “I am suggesting that the only answer, the only hermeneutic of the gospel, is a congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it. I am, of course, not denying the importance of the many activities by which we seek to challenge public life with the gospel– evangelistic campaigns, distribution of Bibles and Christian literature, conferences, and even books such as this one.

    “But I am saying that these are all secondary, and that they have power to accomplish their purpose only as they are rooted in and lead back to a believing community.” — Lesslie Newbigin

    • Kim Fabricius


      Thanks for sending me to the shelves for my copy of The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, published in 1989, bought in October 1991, well-thumbed and copiously marked, including the wonderful passage you cite from its penultimate chapter, “The Congregation as Hermeneutic of the Gospel”. Lesslie N. — as Busch said of Barth, his theology always “more like the needle of a compass than a weather vane.”

  • LifeisCrazyGood

    From an agnostic slipping towards atheism:
    “Give an gentle account for what drives you, for why you do what you do.”
    What if I love on people because it’s the right thing to do? Because all of humanity deserves to give and receive love? The many “ministries” that my husband and myself are involved in “behind the scenes,” are born of a genuine desire to do what’s right – to make life a little better for those that we happen to stumble upon in our daily lives; to right injustices related to racism and poverty where we have the ability to intervene; to give services or money or time in a way that we can be effective – all because it’s simply the right thing to do. We all have opportunities all around us to make just a little bit of a difference in the lives of others – we just have to open our eyes. But we don’t love others in the name of Christ – we love them because of an innate desire to see our fellow humans suffer less or myriads of other reasons – simply put because it’s the right thing to do. If this is the life I live now, why do I need Christ as a part of it? How does that change anything at all?

    • acousticmom

      I hear you, LifeisCrazyGood. I’m jaded enough about church and conservative Christian culture that I face the same question. We can do good things apart from Christ, and Christians can do terrible things–absolutely. But I keep bumping into the reality that despite our best human efforts, we always seem to err either on the side of justice or on the side of mercy. For me, this plays out in who we embrace and who we exclude in the church, but it also applies to all sorts of social and political challenges.

      People of all religious persuasions will continue to get some things right, but also screw up in big and small ways. I see Jesus as the hope of justice and mercy meeting perfectly. That hope is also the only way enemy-love can make sense to me, and I’ve seen how powerful and transformative that can be.

      I can’t prove faith in Jesus gets us there, and I have no patience for apologetics, but every time I read the news I yearn for that hope. That’s why I’m hanging on.

      Your question is super important. Kudos for the good things you do in your corner of the world.

    • David Jentsch

      Dear LifeisCrazyGood,

      I don’t think that any rational Christian has said that a non-believer cannot be a very good human being. So you don’t “need” Christ to continue to do the good that you are doing, but imo if you did believe it gives you a reason to do good. Because if a God doesn’t exist then objective moral values or duties do not exist so it follows that there is no real good or bad just our human illusions. So if you based your faith in Christ your affirming that there is objective values and duties therefore giving you a reason to do good. You say that your reason for doing good is to make the world a better place, but if there is a no God then there is no difference between the good your doing and a burglar robbing a house. Now I’m not trying to say what your doing is wrong, on the contrary i think that what your doing is wonderful. But that is because I believe in a God that can base what is objectively good and evil in.

      I would love further discussion. Thanks!

      • I agree with you, David. In fact, your comment proves that apoogetics are very important – you used them to make an agnostic/atheist think about the basis for their beliefs (hopefully).


        • LifeisCrazyGood

          I have thought about the “basis for my beliefs” for a very long time, with a great amount of sincerity; but absolutely not with regards to the comment above.

          I strongly disagree that one must believe in God or Christ to *know* what goodness is, or to “have a reason to do good.”

          You can’t be serious.

          Cultures all over the world, with rare and sometimes extreme exceptions, have a general understanding of what “good” means as it pertains to human interactions. For example, murder, rape, theft, abuses of all kinds, lying, cheating, and on and on and on are ubiquitously considered “bad” in almost every culture. In contrast, feeding the poor, serving the homeless, giving time and money to charity, caring for our elderly, keeping our children safe and healthy, supporting fairness and justice for all, treating each other with respect, lending a helping hand to a neighbor, and on and on and on…are deeds almost always considered to be “good” by cultures and religions all over the world.

          This is not a valid argument for Christianity. Christ, alone, is not the definition of goodness.

          • David Jentsch

            You are actually arguing for my point that objective moral values and duties exist by saying “good” is recognized by all cultures. I never said one had to be a Christian to know what good and bad are. That is ridiculous like you said! I’m saying that without God there are no objective moral values or duties.

        • David Jentsch

          Yes Dave thank you, this is what brought me to Christ as a non-believer. It all starts at questioning the foundation of ones worldview.

      • Andrew Dowling

        Contrary to our popular cultural belief, being an evil selfish jerk generally gets one killed in caveman times. It’s to one’s evolutionary advantage to be kind and form alliances rather than make enemies. In addition, humans have a natural inclination towards empathy and altruism. You can see it in babies as young as 6 months old, and they have no conception of God.

        • David Jentsch

          Hey Andrew. I agree with your comment entirely, but what point does it make? That evolution programmed us with are moral feelings? I agree with this but that does not obligate me to be moral. Evolution in no way provides humans with objective moral values and most surely doesn’t proved us with any moral duty. So what exactly is your point if you could expound on it further I would like to hear it.

          • Andrew Dowling

            “Evolution in no way provides humans with objective moral values and most surely doesn’t proved us with any moral duty.”

            But it actually does, because you lower your chances of survival if you do “bad” things (and of course one doesn’t think this way when they help someone out; this is millions of years of change wired into the subconscious).

            People look at say, ISIS, and go “oh look how horrible the world is; look at those evil people.” And yes they are evil, And they are also getting attacked by practically everyone NOT in ISIS: the Kurds, the U.S., Iran, Iraq: they are hated by everyone by being so horrible. And the life expectancy of an ISIS fighter is far lower than that if your average middle of the road human being trying to support their family and be a generally nice individual. Because 9 out of 10 times, it pays to be kind. We not only help ensure our survival, we get natural endorphin rushes when doing selfless deeds-our body is literally telling us “don’t be a jerk!”

            This is why in the history of human society there has never been a society that said “rape, OK, murder, OK, in fact, the majority of the crop goes to the person who causes the most suffering this week. Starting time is Sunday at noon.” Because morality is naturally intuitive to the human experience; unless one has a neurological disorder (anti-social sociopathy), people feel bad if they cause harm and feel good when they spread cheer.

            Now that all said, I do believe in God. To me, these realities actually point to God. But in any case, the existence or absence of a formal religious framework doesn’t change that reality.

          • David Jentsch

            Andrew I think you are mistaken. Just because evolution programs us with the moral values and duties doesn’t mean that they are objective. All those values and duties do is help us survive as human beings, that doesn’t say anything about those values and duties are objectively true. You say that doing bad lowers ones chances of survival, but in the big scheme of things the universe doesn’t care if I survive or not. So even though it would be beneficial for me to do good, I have no obligation or duty to do so.

            I agree with you that one doesn’t need a religious framework to observe good and evil, but that’s not my argument.

          • Andrew Dowling

            “So even though it would be beneficial for me to do good, I have no obligation or duty to do so.”

            But the whole point is that morality doesn’t derive from obligation and duty (although every human society has set forth a framework of rules-be they religious or secular-that influences decision-making and sets up accepted standards). Obligations are taking out the trash and paying my bills on time, not loving my neighbor.

          • DaveJ

            So Andrew I take it that you don’t think that objective moral values and duties exist? But don’t you see the consequences of what your saying? Under your view our morality is just a byproduct of us evolving as social animals thus if someone(let’s call this person Bob) were to rape and murder a woman then there would be nothing objectively wrong with this. The only thing you could say to this would be that Bob did something that according to our social constructs isn’t beneficial.

          • Pete E.

            I think Andrew is asking you where YOU get your objective moral values from.

          • DaveJ

            I don’t claim to know in every situation what is right or wrong. I’m not an all-perfect being. But I do think that there are objective values. I think that many would agree with me, say that person A thought that the killing of 1000 innocent people was good. Regardless of what person A thinks there is something objectively wrong with the killing of the 1000.

            I don’t claim to have full knowledge of objective moral values and duties but I think, like in the case above, some are easily pointed out. Like the killing of innocent people.

          • Andrew Dowling

            David, I actually agree there are objective moral values, but you are basically saying without a referee present fouls are permissible, which a lot of people would disagree with.

          • DaveJ

            Why wouldn’t they be permissible? I mean really what makes something objectively good or bad under athiesm?

            I don’t mean to sound rude,truly, but saying a lot of people disagree with something doesn’t prove anything.

            PS I know I can seem offensive but I don’t intend to be.

          • Andrew Dowling

            No offense taken.

            People can make a decision, fot example, that torturing a child is immoral for a number of reasons, and naturally we abhor such actions, deep within our neurological framework. God is not necessary for that judgment to be sound. I’m struggling to see why you think so.

          • DaveJ

            I agree with you that it is deep within our neurological framework to abhor such things therefore I agree that God is not necessary for that judgement to be sound. I have never said that a person couldn’t make an accurate moral decision without God. I’m not concerned with moral epistemology, I’m talking about moral ontology.

            I think we are getting a bit mixed up here so I just want to ask a simple question and go from there. If there is no God, what is good (what makes something objectively good or bad)? I know that you have stated earlier that we have been programmed to by evolution to see things as good or bad but I’m not concerned about how we know, I’m concerned with does good or bad really(objectively) exist.

          • Andrew Dowling

            Beau basically made my response for me:

            “There is no requirement that an objective standard must come from a
            source outside of humanity. All that is required is that the humans
            making the judgment agree upon the standard, whatever the source of that
            standard is. Standards of morality do vary, but most moral philosophies
            today are grounded in the concept of human well-being and the golden
            rule. This makes excellent sense. It impossible for humans to flourish
            unless humans value their own well-being. Because we have evolved as an
            extremely social animal, the well-being of each human is inseparably
            tied to the well-being of others.”

          • Scott Jorgenson

            Interesting comments.

            I think David’s just pointing out that if “good” and “evil” are to be deeply grounded in the reality that is external to us, the concept of God is capable of delivering on that concern much better than atheism ever can. And don’t we have a deep, gut-level sense that at least some moral judgments of what is “good” and what is “evil” are that deeply grounded? Or is that sense illusory?

            Meanwhile I think others in this thread are disputing that humans really need that level of grounding in order to have effective morality. Morality can be of human origin and that’s sufficient for human purposes. And if such deeply-grounded morality exists, but we evidently have no access to it – at least not a level of access that is so reliable as could be called “mechanistic” – of what practical use is that anyway?

            I find much to agree with on all sides here. As for my opinion – no comment, I’m still thinking about it.

          • I can only add that I find the evidence completely lacking for “deeply grounded” morality that is “external to us”. The vast universe external to human experience shows no signs of morality. The galaxies that surround us are completely indifferent to human morality. And human morality itself, while certainly not perfect (whatever that means) is both explainable in evolutionary and rational terms, and necessary for human well-being.

            However, this certainly doesn’t mean that I or other atheists see morality as insignificant or meaningless. On the contrary, morality is of “deeply grounded” meaning to humans. Adding the conceit of some perfect moral deity adds nothing of value to moral philosophy. I fail to see how the concept of external perfection “deeply grounds” anything. The morality depicted by the theistic “argument from morality”, is a simplistic, black and white view of morality that fails to account for the complexity and paradoxes of moral struggles in our society.

          • Andrew Dowling

            Personally, I believe such intuitive morality fostered by evolution points to a transcendent force; Beau and I would disagree there. However,I would concede it is not “proof” of God.

          • RedQueen

            “Just because evolution programs us with the moral values and duties doesn’t mean that they are objective. All those values and duties do is help us survive as human beings, ”

            And how is “survival of humans” not an objective value?

          • DaveJ

            Under athiesm, there is no difference in the human race dying off today or a million years from now. So if there is no God(an all-perfect being) then human beings are not intrinsically valuable. We are of the same value as a rock or molecule of water. This is the consequence of athiesm that I am pointing out. So, under athiesm, how is the survival of humans objectively good?

          • Pete E.

            I know a lot of atheists, David, and they would not grant you your opening sentence–which is the assertion upon which your logic is based.

          • DaveJ

            How could they not grant it? I mean this is the consequence of athiesm. Nietzsche among other very notable athiests recognized this. I know you cannot speak for athiests on the matter but what could they say that would undermine my opening statement?

          • Andrew Dowling

            Your first sentence is simply inaccurate. So we cannot decide something is of value unless a Perfect Being (who humans can’t agree upon regarding His/their morals, conception, nature etc) values it? Can my child not value something that I do not value?

            Nietzsche is a favorite reference for many an apologist but there are a lot of liberal christians/non believers/secular humanists who strongly disagree with a lot of his assumptions.

          • DaveJ

            We can value anything but what do we ground this value in? If we say something has value because it is good, this leads to asking what is good and why should it be valued over bad? So in order for something to be valued as truly good there needs to be an objective basis. If an all-perfect being declares A good then A is objectively good no matter if every human being on earth thinks A is bad.

            So ofcourse your child can value something that you do not, but this is regardless of whether that something is objectively good.

          • Whether one agrees with Nietzsche or not on any particular issue – apologists simply cherry pick his statements reflective of nihilism completely out of context and draw conclusions that Nietzsche would never draw. Nietzsche saw nihilism as a result of the failure of religious (especially western Christian) moral systems. Nietzsche saw nihilism as a state to overcome, not a reason for despair.

      • LifeisCrazyGood

        So, you are basically saying that only by believing in God/Christ can I know what “good” truly means? Only by believing in God/Christ will I have a “reason to do good?”

        With all due respect…that’s absolutely ridiculous.

        • David Jentsch

          I agree that would be ridiculous but that’s not what I’m saying at all. Of course you know what good and bad are. You are doing all kinds of good deeds. I’m saying that under atheism there is no reason to think such a thing as good and evil actually exist. If there is nothing to base good and evil in then they are just illusions in our brain. Of course an atheist can do good but that does nothing to prove that we as humans have objective moral values and duties. So it’s not about moral epistemology but rather moral ontology here.

          • peteenns

            But David, surely you know the deep moral difficulties of the “objective” moral guidance the Bible provides. The command for treatments of slaves is heinous (Exod 21:20-21) or God sitting by while the Israelites divide the captured Midianite virgin woman among themselves (Numbers 31). I’m fully aware of the apologetic answers to these issues, but they only displays the very problem I am highlighting in this post–apologetics protects systems, even against the Bible it need be.

            Add to this the fact that the moral guidance of the Bible isn’t consistent and that a good but of it can be easily traced to older ancient cultures.

            Where do you get your moral ontology from in all this? By prioritizing certain things, minimizing or explaining away others.

          • David Jentsch

            I never said I get my moral values and duties from the Bible. I don’t think the Bible is necessary to know what good and evil is. My point was without God( any perfect being, not just the Christian God) there is no such thing as objective moral values or duties, just our human illusions of such things. I understand there are moral difficulties in the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, so I don’t claim that the Bible is where I get my understanding of moral values and duties.

          • Andrew Dowling

            So where do you get your knowledge of God from?

          • DaveJ

            Where I get my knowledge of God is independent of the point I’m trying to make. My point was without a God there is no objective moral values and duties. Where I get my knowledge of God has nothing to do with my argument.

          • Pete E.

            OK, let’s assume God. Now, where do our “objective” moral values come from? And how do we know?

          • DaveJ

            Well I think that they are rooted in the nature of God. Something is good because God wills it according to his nature ( I understand God to be an all-perfect being) so that is where objective values would come from. And I’m not so much concerned with how do we know, because that is independent of whether there is objective moral values. An example would be that say the Nazis won WW2 and had convinced the world that the killing of the Jews was good. Now it seems to me regardless of what the world thinks, the killing of the Jews is objectively wrong, no matter if the entire human population thinks that it was good.

          • Andrew Dowling

            Nevermind; Pete asked my question below

      • D Rieder

        Why does believing in Jesus give you an objective reason to do good? Give us your objective reason to do good even if it is deemed good by God.

        • DaveJ

          Well since I believe that there is an all-perfect being and I believe objective moral values are grounded in this perfect being then I have a duty to do these objectively good deeds. I’m not an advocate that we should do good so we will go to heaven or hell, I think that since something is objectively good then it is our duty do it because we should strive to be like an all-prefect being. Now of course this doesn’t force one to do anything but it gives us a concrete basis for good no matter if I or you think that it is bad.

          • D Rieder

            Do you consider this sense of duty, this desire or striving to be objectively or subjectively based?

            Why, other than a personal desire to do so, should you strive to be like an all-perfect being? Does any of that striving result in objective benefits other than pleasing God and yourself?

    • Jameson Graber

      I think it changes everything. From what I know scientifically, the most likely scenario for humanity is that one day we all die out. Whether that’s because of our own bad decisions or simply because all stars eventually die out at some point, it seems very unlikely that we’ll be able to keep up this thing called civilization indefinitely. And even if we could, is that really such a comfort for each of us individually? Even if I devote my entire life to helping others and making the world a better place, one day I will no longer be there to see the fruit of that, and I find little comfort in the idea that others might get to enjoy that tiny fruit for their likewise brief existence.

      But on the other hand, if Christ is alive, that raises other possibilities. Maybe humanity’s fate isn’t sealed. Maybe when we do what’s right, it actually lasts.

      I can certainly see why anyone would doubt that Christ is alive, but I’ve never understood why it wouldn’t make a difference.

      • Andrew Dowling

        Humans have been a blip on the grand timeline of existence, so God clearly has other priorities.

        And I’ve never understood the “if there is nothing left it doesn’t matter” argument. The people we’ve known who died didn’t matter? Our existence for our children didn’t matter? That to me is nonsensical.

        • Jameson Graber

          There are lots of replies to that, for instance, God allowed such a long build-up to the human race because we’re just that important.

          As for the second part, it seems like you’re zipping right by my main point, which is a pretty fundamental one. As a being who experiences things, it is simply a fact of my existence that once I stop experiencing them, it’s as if they weren’t even there. So I ask, is it my inescapable fate to one day stop experiencing the world, forever? It seems to me the answer changes everything.

          • Andrew Dowling

            Yes I like most in the world long and hope for an afterlife, but I hope and pray for an effect on those thay know me in this world. If nothing comes after this (and I do think there is more) that doesnt make this life meaningless to me at all. The effect we have on others last indefinitely.

          • Jameson Graber

            “The effect we have on others last indefinitely.” Even that may or may not be true. This isn’t just about the individual. It could be that nothing lasts, not even the effect of the good we’ve done.

            I suspect none of us want to believe that. Even convinced atheists seem to take it as an article of faith that what we do matters. The point I’m making is not to convince anyone that Jesus must be alive, or everything is pointless. All I’m saying is that it matters whether or not he’s alive. Hope is the most powerful motivation there is.

    • Andrew Dowling

      That is following Christ. Whether the name of Jesus is invoked is not particularly susbtantial IMO.

      • Gary

        Of I hear the derogatory categorization of “nominal Christians.” To me, the nominally is in invocation of the name as substitutionary means of bypassing the way of being, especially in service to the point of death. Because my view is such an exceptional view within Christianity, I’m quite comfortable to be considered non-Christian embracing the paradox.

  • Here’s how I see it:

    We just tell the truth. Usually, that is proclamation of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ saving us from sin, death and the devil – giving us forgiveness, life and salvation.

    We don’t need to prove that – nor do we persuade unbelievers of the fact – but we tell about what happened, which has to do with God’s proof, not ours (Acts 17:30-31). The Holy Spirit uses that proclamation as He sees fit.


    • Andrew Dowling

      “We don’t need to prove that” (cites Scripture reference)

  • Tim


    I think you need to frame what you’re saying in a way that escapes fideism (unless you’re ok with that – are you?).

    • peteenns

      Even raising the fideism specter already privileges the supremacy of the intellectual establishment of Xty.

      • Tim


        Fideism as I understand it is faith independent of reason. As such it seems that your post is essentially fideistic. Or am I misunderstanding something there?

        To say “fideism is bad” may be to “presuppose” the supremacy of reason. But raising fideism as an issue or question does not. How could it? Faith independent of reason presupposes the supremacy of reason…that makes no sense whatsoever. However, it does seem most people avoid it these days. Since as an approach to belief it doesn’t seem to establish as more credible one’s faith next to the Mormon or the cultist drinking Kool-Aid. Both just “believe.” But for you, is this do you think the best approach to Christian faith? Or yours anyway?

        • peteenns

          I reason all the time, Tim–about my faith and a good many other things. You are over reading my post as making some grand epistemological claim about “faith and reason” and their proper relationship.

          You seem to be claiming that “faith is not independent of reason.” Are you therefore suggesting that faith is dependent on reason? I hope not.

          • Tim


            Thanks for the reply. No, I am not suggesting faith largely is or should be independent of reason. I am only saying that is what fideism is and your post seemed to tilt that way. Which is why my first comment on this thread was asking for clarification on that. If your post is not epistemological, then I’m not sure how to read it. Again, this is why I am asking questions rather than trying to interject answers.

    • rvs

      John Locke’s title “The Reasonableness of Christianity” makes me smile. Reasonableness? Fideism is a good thing. G.K. Chesterton, Kierkegaard, Laurence Sterne, etc.–fideists.

  • Chris Falter

    I largely agree, Pete. Yet there is a role for apologetics in a world where critics say our works may be commendable, but evolutionary psychology, not God, accounts for those works.

    • Andrew Dowling

      The study of evolutionary psychology actually strengthened my faith, although my brand of Christian faith is different from your standard evangelical format.

      • Chris Falter

        Please give details, Andrew! I would imagine your approach incorporates a certain apologetic (i.e., a logical response to the criticism that religious feeling is just a product of evolutionary psychology, not corresponding to any underlying supernatural reality) as well as the practical stuff of faith, hope, and love.

        • Andrew Dowling

          It’s studies that increasingly show altruism and kindness/compassion to be normative and naturally inherent,and that they actually confer an evolutionary advantage. The typical Hobbsian/Augustinian reality purported by fundementalists would cause me despair, but despite the world’s many serious problems, that the nature of reality “rewards” love to me points to the reality of God and the truth of Jesus. Reality didn’t have to be this way, but it is.

          That’s the 5 second summation at least.

          • LifeisCrazyGood

            But isn’t that essentially the premise of evolutionary psychology with regard to religion – that we ARE rewarded?

          • Andrew Dowling

            Not sure I get the question . . .I think evolutionary psychology moreso thinks of religion as being a means to deal with the existence of evil and death but not necessarily “rewards” of the afterlife (lots of religions don’t have a ‘heaven’). But unclear that was where you were getting at . . .

          • Chris Falter

            Thanks, Andrew! That’s a good thought for the day. God’s created, gifted, and sustained the universe in such a way that goodness and justice bear positive effects on our souls.

            If you could link to one or two resources, I would be grateful.

          • Andrew Dowling
          • Chris Falter

            Interesting books. The Amazon reviews indicate that they both contend that our moral sense (good vs. evil, right vs. wrong) are innate, even biological. Getting from there to the notion that God created/sustained the universe in such a way that we humans would have the right biological stuff to seek Him seems to require additional steps. I’m fine with that, I’m just trying to make sure I understand what you’re saying.

            This line of reasoning also leads one to wonder why we are created in the image of God, but bonobos are not. If you think of God’s image as being a commission to act as steward, rather than something more ontological, perhaps that’s not a theological difficulty.

            In any case, thanks for the book recommendations, Andrew!

          • Andrew Dowling

            No problem. Thank you for the dialogue.

  • Clay Crouch

    Along similar lines, I found Francis Spufford’s book, “Unapologetic”, a breath of fresh air.

  • I think I understand the argument your are making. Could your assumptions reflect a pre-modern understanding – where intellect, emotion, and will are independent faculties possibly existing in a soul? I think even the argument leads to a cognitive dissonance. I abhor Evangelical apologetics. They are disingenuous. However, if I were to sit down with anyone swearing off “reasons” especially over a pint or bourbon, I bet I could get them to articulate their reasons for swearing off reasons. Some historical arguments no longer have any purchase in the modern (post) world. I think modern neuroscience and cognitive psychology put this one to bed.

  • Have you come across James K.A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom? He heavily criticizes the idea of thinking largely in terms of ‘worldviews’, precisely because that is too cognitive.

  • David Jentsch

    I’m currently reading your book Evolution of Adam and am agreeing with you on the majority of your book, but this post I have to disagree with. You say that any argument can be met by a counter argument, which I agree with, but this doesn’t mean that the counter argument refutes the original argument. This seems to be a cop- out for not engaging in the actual arguments themselves.

    You go on to say that you are not concerned with the “reasonableness” of the Christian faith, but if it’s not reasonable or not probably true why believe in it at all? It would be on the same grounds as believing in Zeus or Thor. Now I don’t claim to know what you, sir base your faith in but what is there to base it in if its not at least probable true? I guess you could say that it is the inner witness of the Holy Spirit but why trust this?

    Lastly, apologetics from the likes of William Craig and Alvin Plantiga is what brought me to faith, I was convinced of the reasonableness of the faith before I put my faith in Christ. Is my faith somehow insufficient because my intellect came before my belief?

    Thank you for the post and I would appreciate a response.

    • Kim Fabricius

      William Lane Craig claims that the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, which killed over 230,000 people, “would be great [his italics]” if God could use it to bring more people to Christ. Indeed, Craig exclaims, “Thank God for the suffering!”

      In this case, that type of apologetics known as theodicy has plummeted from the pointless to the repugnant.

      • David Jentsch

        Hello Kim!

        First off, your comment does nothing to disprove any of the arguments for Gods existence that Craig defends. All you are essentially saying is that Craig said something that you find to be atrocious, which is an emotional statement and has no place in philosophy. Second if you could cite where you got this quote from I would appreciate it( I believe that he wrote it but I would like to read the whole article or chapter instead of less than a sentence).

        I would like to respond to your comment further but I really don’t know what your objection is other than u thought what he said was “repugnant” and that isn’t an argument, it’s a personal opinion. So if you could outline your exact objection to what Craig wrote I would like to hear what your objection is and how maybe I could respond to it.

        • Andrew Dowling

          Philisophically, Craig has stated any “errors” or contradictions found in the Bible are not real as the Bible “can’t be wrong” (he has made similar dismissals to arguments about divinely commanded genocide in the Bible . .God can’t be wrong, so it must be right!) that it’s only our fallen minds that are the problem; if it doesn’t make sense to us we are simply too limited to properly understand. That this is a terrible argument shouldn’t need an explanation, especially since it came from Craig’s own fallen mind. That rabbit hole is endless.

          • David Jentsch

            Well as far as I can tell Craig holds to innerancy( I hate this word because it is so “loose” imo) but I know from his writings that if he were shown that their was a contradiction in the Bible he would give up inerrancy but he has yet to be convinced of such. But yes God is a perfect being who cannot be wrong. Craig is just following a framework he set by his arguments for an all-perfect being.

            Now I have never heard Craig say that it is our fallen minds that our the problem. I know he says that since we are not omnipresent omniscient omnipotent etc that we are in no postition to say that suffering or evil is pointless. So I don’t think it’s a rabbit hole that goes on forever, I think it stops when you say that I’m a limited human being and I don’t claim to have the same knowledge as God.
            (He talks about this on his website Reasonable Faith question of the week 324)

          • peteenns

            Of course he’s not convinced of such… All contradictions are only “apparent.”

          • David Jentsch

            I don’t agree with Craig on this issue, hence the reason I’m reading your book Evolution of Adam. So I’m not disagreeing with you and Phil. I was just trying to outline Craig’s position the best way I could.

          • If someone is beginning with the assumption that the Bible has no contradictions (even though the Bible never says that), you couldn’t demonstrate contradictions exist. Everything can be interpreted in such a way as to resolve the contradiction. In fact, you would be obligated to do so.

            The only way you might possibly own up to a contradiction in the Bible is to read it without the assumption that it cannot contain a contradiction.

          • Andrew Dowling

            “but he has yet to be convinced of such.”

            He has stated publicly that is not an option for him (conceding biblical contradictions), so (voila) he will never be convinced.

          • David Jentsch

            1. Whatever God teaches is true.
            2. Historical, prophetic, and other evidences show that Jesus is God.
            3. Therefore, whatever Jesus teaches is true.

            4. Whatever Jesus teaches is true.
            5. Jesus taught that the Scriptures are the inspired, inerrant Word of God.
            6. Therefore, the Scriptures are the inspired, inerrant Word of God.

            This is the structure Craig outlines for his inerrancy in his question of the week #11 at

            So I don’t agree with Craig but I don’t find his reasoning to be crazy.

            Lastly, not to be rude, but what are we establishing with this discussion? That Craig is a proponent of inerrancy and that we are not? I still find Craig to be spot on in other areas of his ministry.

          • Andrew Dowling

            “but what are we establishing with this discussion?”

            That’s Craig’s reasoning, and that of similar-type apologetics, is seriously flawed. You have to accept a ton of presuppositions (which I don’t think hold up to critical analysis) for his a#1=#6 to be convincing at all

          • David Jentsch

            Which premises of the argument do u find fault with? I think the argument is solid until 5.

          • Andrew Dowling

            For starters, his #1 presumes #6; unless God is teaching a course somewhere upstate, in which case I’d like to enroll ASAP.

          • DaveJ

            How is this so? All premise 1 states is that whatever God teaches is true. He is not presuming the Christian God just an all-perfect being. He establishes the Christian God in premise 2.

          • Andrew Dowling

            That’s assuming ‘God teaches’ at all in any standard sense. And of course, the assumption is that God teaches through inerrant Scripture; his #2 says “prophetic” evidence, which is only valid evidence of one accepts the Scriptures as divinely inspired/without error (nevermind that mainstream scholarship concludes early Christians were extremely “creative” with OT prophecies and that is being generous). He is also assuming the Bible is inerrant in its history (because it’s the word of God) Everything depends on #6 from the get go.

          • DaveJ

            ” that’s assuming God teaches anything in the standard sense”

            All premise one is saying is that whatever an all-perfect being teaches is true, one could change premise 1 to “if an all perfect being taught something it would be true.

            “The assumption is that God teaches through inerrancy Scripture”

            Where is this assumption? I think that you are reading this into the premise.

            “His #2 says’prophetic’ evidence, which is only valid evidence if one accepts the Scriptures are divinely inspired”

            Yes I would agree with you here but I premise 2 would hold if you dropped prophetic.

            “He is assuming the Bible is inerrant in its history”

            Where is he assuming this? I don’t see that anywhere. Of course I already stated I disagree with premise 5, I don’t know where Jesus taught that Scripture was inerrant.

            Lastly, do u have a definition of inerrancy? I’ve heard so many different definitions, I want to know what u mean by inerrant.

          • Andrew Dowling

            #1 is kind of one of those statements that doesn’t mean anything. “What an All-Perfect Being teaches is true” is like a statement exclaiming “the best ice cream would be the tastiest” . . .
            That he goes directly into #2 talking about historical and prophetic information found in the Bible demonstrates Mr. Craig is assuming God “teaches” through the Bible and then presto, the Bible can’t be wrong as God can’t be wrong.

            No, #2 doesn’t hold at all. No-one has ever believed Jesus was God after dispassionately looking at any amount of historical evidence without carrying their presuppositions through faith to the table; in fact, most non-evangelical biblical scholars don’t believe the New Testament even claims that Jesus is God (Yahweh). Not to mention that historians commonly accept that the Bible contains an interwoven tapestry of history and myth and is often not reliable as a straight historical narrative.

            And then the question is “what does Jesus=God” even mean? . . what is God, and what kind of statement is it, and what is its meaning, that a human being can be God? And that is a much more complex question than apologists like Craig would submit.

          • DaveJ

            Andrew I disagree, premise 2 is supported by historical evidence. I think the evidence for the death and resurrection of Jesus good. You make a lot of generalizations that have no basis, ” no one ever believed Jesus was God after dispassionately looking at any amount of historical evidence without carrying their presuppositions through faith to the table” there is no possible way you could know this. And, like you, I don’t often agree with the conclusions that evangelical scholars draw but u write them off as if they have no idea what they are talking about. Some, like Craig Blomberg, offer good arguments that need to be dealt with not thrown away because they are considered evangelicals.

            Of course the gospels are interwoven with myth but that doesn’t mean there isn’t historical facts within them. You seem to think that just because there is myth that there can’t be fact, which is ridiculous.

            Lastly, the orthodox(held by all major denominations) Christian view is that Jesus was God. Now the exact details of this are debated among scholars but this does nothing to negate the view that God was incarnate in Jesus. Craig has a doctorate in theology, so I think he does understand the depth and complexity of the incarnation.

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            I have a question about premise 1. How do we know that everything a perfect being taught was true? How does this square with, say, 1 Kings 22 where God deliberately sent prophets a lying spirit to give them false revelations?

            As regards premise 2, I can’t deny that most Christian denominations teach that Jesus is God. Whether they are right or not is another matter. I believe in the inspiration of Scripture, but I think the “evidence” for Jesus being God is extremely scant and debatable – certainly nothing like “historical, prophetic, and other instances.” Premise 2 would probably be stronger if he said, “The Church from the fifth century forward has consistently taught that Jesus was God.” Premise 2 as it stands is actually very controversial if what we’re doing is trying to establish it as a principle everyone should agree to. I’d allow Arians to join my church.

          • Andrew Dowling

            The Arians had a stronger biblical case for their position I’ll say that much.

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            I kind of think so, too. Probably. Maybe. Shhhh.

          • DaveJ

            Well an all-perfect being would be omniscient and all-good so whatever it taught would be correct unless, maybe, there is morally sufficient reason for lying. Are we assuming that 1 Kings 22 actually happened?

            I agree that we shouldn’t accept a teaching just because a majority holds it. Contrary to you, I find the historical evidence to be pretty good for the resurrection of Jesus. I’m not saying that it is certain or even probable but to me it’s convincing.

            If I’m not mistaken hasn’t the mainstream view been, at least since 325 AD, that Jesus was fully God and fully human?

            As far as Arianism, I think there are a couple of verses that seem to say that Jesus is subordinate to the Father but i think that there are more verses that point to the Father and Son being equal. But I haven’t studied this in much detail.

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            Well, maybe. That assumes that being perfect means being omniscient and all-good. It also assumes that an omniscient and all-good being wouldn’t withhold information or even falsify it to serve a greater good. It also discounts the fact that, even when not intending to manipulate information, we often express truth via concepts that are inaccurate, like talking about watching the sun set, for example.

            Jesus being resurrected and Jesus being God are completely different things. I thought Premise 2 was that Jesus is God. I also find the evidence for the resurrection likely. The divinity of Jesus, I just kind of go along with by default because it really makes me no particular difference.

            It’s important to note that the “mainstream” view is the mainstream because Emperor Constantine decreed it to be so in the fourth century. At that same council were over 20 Arian bishops, including Constantine’s own bishop, Eusebius. It was not settled through debate or compromise, nor were people allowed to go their own way with their various views. It was the hypostatic union or death.

          • DaveJ

            Hey Phil, I haven’t read much on the incarnation but I do hold the “orthodox” view. You say that over 20 bishops at The council, yes but there were a lot more that held the view that came to be orthodoxy. Now this doesn’t mean anything, I just wanted to point that out. Lastly, from the little I read about the council, I don’t think that it was as serious as “agree or die”. It was more civil than how you portray it.

            This is my last post, thanks for the discussion Phil, Andrew, and everyone else.

            Best regards,


          • Andrew Dowling

            “Of course the gospels are interwoven with myth but that doesn’t mean
            there isn’t historical facts within them. You seem to think that just
            because there is myth that there can’t be fact, which is ridiculous.”

            Read my post again; do I ever state this? No, I say they are a mixture of history remembered and history mythologized. To say there is good evidence for the resurrection (and I’m assuming you mean a literal bodily resurrection) . .you have basically two routes to go to: You point to 1) the Biblical text, which is a) an ancient religious text, not a history book b) Is not consistent in how the Resurrection is portrayed/what it means/what happened (or where) or 2) the NT Wright approach, which is that nothing else explains the rapid growth of a nascent religious movement besides the witnessing of a literal micracle . . which is an argument I’m sure Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses like as well

            As historical explanations sans faith, sorry they are very weak. Scholars like Blomberg are unwilling to entertain conclusions that do not gel with their evangelical faith (just like WLC). The final destinations are already partially determined before the journey begins, which is not true scholarship.

          • DaveJ

            “The Biblical text which is an ancient religious text, not a history book”

            I absolutely agree, but this doesn’t mean that one can’t take the Gospels verse by verse and get history out of them. I’m sure you agree with this so I’m not really getting your point here.

            “Is not consistent in how the Resurrection is portrayed/what it means/what happened”

            Yes there are differences in each gospel and it is apparent each author had their own point to get across, but the main story is still the same in each. That a man named Jesus taught, was crucified and was raised after 3 days.( or at least the disciples thought that he was raised)

            Andrew I think that you are right that in some cases a person comes to the conclusion that they want to come to, but like I said in the last post I think you are selling some of them short. Blomberg claims that he came to his position because of the evidence, not that he rejected conclusions because of his faith. I think that you are painting every scholar that has a conservative viewpoint under the same stroke.

          • Andrew Dowling

            “I think that you are painting every scholar that has a conservative viewpoint under the same stroke.”

            They work for institutions that have them sign statements affirming inerrancy and other tenets of conservative evangelicalism! That’s an oxymoron for engaging in scholarship.

            “it is apparent each author had their own point to get across”

            They are not independent accounts; you have Mark. Matthew and Luke are essentially re-writes of Mark adding other material from the oral tradition (also probably a written sayings source-Q) as well as the respective theological biases of the evangelists. John is a separate, later and more developed tradition but the author(s) likely knew the Synoptics in addition to their own material. So the oft-used “it’s like 4 witnesses to an event. each with minor variations” does not hold. There’s zero evidence of any tradition of the empty tomb before Mark (and Mark doesn’t have any post-resurrection appearances).

            “That a man named Jesus taught, was crucified and was raised after 3 days”

            Well that’s pretty basic (mainstream scholarship does not contest that Jesus of Nazareth lived and was crucified) and of course the crux is what does “raised” mean; conservatives jump to the conclusion that it means a resuscitated corpse; I think a big chunk of the NT literature points to visionary experiences and the “embodied living” of Jesus’s Kingdom through his living disciples as the evidence of God “raising Jesus” from the dead (the Emmanaus narrative in Luke is a beautiful illustration of this), not a one time historical event of a corpse arising from the grave.

          • Pete E.

            FYI, Norman Perrin’s booklet “The Resurrection According to Matthew, Mark, and Luke” makes more or less the same point you are making, Andrew.

          • Andrew Dowling

            I’ll have to look it up; Perrin is one of those guys I have seen quoted a lot but not actually read.

        • Kim Fabricius

          “A proof of God’s existence ought really to be something by means of which one could convince oneself that God exists. But I think that what believers who have furnished such proofs have wanted to do is give their ‘belief’ an intellectual analysis and foundation, although they themselves would never have come to believe as a result of such proofs. Perhaps one could ‘convince someone that God exists’ by means of a certain kind of upbringing, by shaping his life in such a way.”
          — Wittgenstein

          Commenting on the point Wittgenstein is making here, Fergus Kerr observes: “The question of the existence of God as commonly conceived comes either too late or too early to have a place in the conversation.” “It is hard,” he continues, “to imagine how people would awaken to the possibility of religious faith … by having it proved to them that there is something more powerful (etc.) than anything in the world. On the other hand, it is easy to think of people who have wanted to analyse and justify their faith by securing rational grounds for it but who then find themselves no longer able to believe in God.”

          Demonstrably, the existence of God is not demonstrable. Perhaps the existence of God is at least probable, even very probable? But “Can you imagine St. Augustine saying that the existence of God was ‘highly probable’!” Thus Wittgenstein dismisses the idea — with well-warranted contempt.

          • David Jentsch

            I agree with your quotes above but I and many others would have never even became open to Christ without the use of apologetics. I agree that even with the best apologetics all one could say is that God is probable. But in my case that was enough for me to say I can commit my life to this belief. So yes I agree with most of your quotations above but I still find apologetics to be a helpful practice particarly to those like myself.

            If you don’t mind me asking Kim, if one can’t say their faith is probable why should they believe? Isn’t this just blind faith? I’m sincere here, how can I believe something that I can’t, at least, say is probable? I might as well believe in any diety I please. Why the Christian God?

          • Kim Fabricius

            Hi David,

            Google and click “Kim Fabricius – Ten Propositions on the God Hypothesis”, which will take you to my 25 May 2010 post of that title at “Faith and Theology”. In it you will find a full(ish) explanation of why this kind of thinking radically misses the mark both on the nature of God and the grammar of God-talk. I deal with “probability” in Proposition #7, but I’d urge you to start at the top and follow the entire argument. Then, if you like, you can follow the comments thread.

            In good faith,

          • David Jentsch

            I’ll check it out! Thanks for the discussion.

            Best regards,


    • Dorfl

      Lastly, apologetics from the likes of William Craig and Alvin Plantinga is what brought me to faith, I was convinced of the reasonableness of the faith before I put my faith in Christ.

      For me, the likes of William Lane Craig where, in the end, the reason I dismissed Christian apologetics altogether. I saw quite a few talks by him some years back, and I found him to be surprisingly reasonable and well-informed. That is, until he started talking about subjects within my own area of competence: physics and mathematics. Then he would suddenly start talking nonsense – but not just any nonsense: I was still able to see why his arguments would still seem convincing to his audience. They were very neatly set up so that you needed to have put in time studying the subject to see exactly where the flaws were.

      This led to an obvious follow-up question: did those other arguments seem reasonable and well-informed because they actually where, or because they took place outside my own area of competence?

      As far as I’ve been able to tell, it’s the latter. When I’ve heard people cite which arguments they find most convincing, they’re usually the ones that they themselves are least qualified to evaluate. This is not just the case for WLC, but apologetics altogether.

      • DaveJ

        I don’t doubt your expertise Dorfl, but Craig debates many people who are experts in philosophy, math, and physics and his arguments hold up. I agree that he is not an expert in physics or math( he has s philosophy degree) and I think it showed when he in the Sean Carrol debate. But the arguments he uses have held up for many years. Still, I would love to hear an example of what u mean. If you wouldn’t mind articulating an example that would be great!

        • Dorfl

          I think this video captures fairly well an approach WLC very often uses:

          The first time you listen to it, it sounds good. He states that there are philosophical arguments showing you can’t actually have an actual infinite, then gives a walkthrough of the Hilbert’s hotel thought experiment, then states that the absurdities it involves demonstrate that an actual infinite is impossible. It’s well-structured, pedagogical and rhetorically impressive. Think it through for a while, and it starts to look more and more like a red herring. The thought experiment explicitly does not show that postulating an actual infinite leads to contradictions. It does show that it leads to very counter-intuitive possibilities but – well – so what?

          (It’s not clear that the situation depicted in the thought experiment is even relevant to what he was originally claiming to rebut, but never mind that. I want to point out the problem with his overall approach, not the details of the argument.)

          If you have studied mathematics for some time, you know that your intuitions are pretty much useless when it comes to dealing with infinities: Your response to the thought experiment should be “I kind of figured at the start that there would be a large number of counterintuitive and perhaps unsettling – but logically consistent – consequences of this. Walking through one of those consequences in detail doesn’t really change anything”. But in my experience, students and people who have little background in mathematics are incredibly uncomfortable with the idea of infinity to begin with, and even more so with looking at it in detail. This makes it a rhetorically very effective strategy for him to simply wave around a number of thought experiments like this, and hope that the discomfort it generates is enough to drive the audience towards the idea that infinities aren’t actually real.

          At the end he also claims that there is a response he gets very often

          Now sometimes people react to Hilbert’s hotel by saying that these paradoxes result because we can’t understand the infinite – it’s just beyond us. But this reaction is in fact mistaken, and naive. Infinite set theory is a highly developed and well understood branch of modern mathematics. These absurdities result, not because we do not understand the infinite, but because we do understand the nature of the actual infinite. Hilbert was a smart guy, and he knew well how to illustrate the bizarre consequences of an actually infinite number of things.

          This is subtly different from how I actually react to his use of Hilbert’s hotel. I’m not saying that the ’absurdities’ result from our inability to understand infinities. I am saying that the feeling that they are absurd results to a certain extent* from our inability to understand infinities. That’s a fairly important difference, which is very easy for him to rhetorically sidestep.

          * The largest contribution is probably just the fact that he is depicting the operation of making a bijection between sets in terms of a physical hotel, which brings up logistical issues that simply aren’t relevant.

          • Pete E.

            For what it’s worth, I’ve had a similar reaction to WLC’s ways of addressing specifically biblical issues (like Canaanite extermination). His approach can give the appearance of being philosophically rigorous–and in a sense they are–but only by ruling our of court, implicitly or explicitly, the field of critical biblical studies, which situates these texts in their ancient contexts. In other words, I do not grant the assumption that issues like this can be addressed purely in philosophical realm, and without addressing issues of ANE context, WLC’s “answers” have holes one can drive chariots through. Similar criticism have been made of Francis Schaeffer.

          • Dorfl

            That seems to match the pattern of WLC appearing reasonable as long as you don’t have in-depth knowledge of the subject he’s discussing. History is a field where I’m completely unqualified to decide what is a good argument and what is not, and it’s also the field where – to my ears – WLC sounds the most plausible.

          • DaveJ

            I think Craig, when talking about the Caanite extermination, is assuming that the events literally happened so he is concerned with how God could order such a command. He has stated that if these events could be shown to not have actually happened, all the better.

          • Andrew Dowling

            “He has stated that if these events could be shown to not have actually happened, all the better.”

            He’s being disingenuous; archaeology has already rendered the Canaanite exterminations highly improbable, but no amount of evidence would ever sway Craig to not believe the Bible was correct in articulating historical events.

          • Pete E.

            That was sort of my point before, David. WLC seems openminded and unafraid of evidence, but the evidence that the conquest narrative is legendary is considerable. WLC either doesn’t know that or he does. Either way, it’s not good.

          • DaveJ

            One doesn’t have to use the Hilbert hotel example. Even if an actual infinite series of events existed, it couldn’t be formed by successively adding. If a person was counting down from infinity, would he have reached zero today? Or 100 years ago?

          • Dorfl

            Sure, WLC has a number of different arguments he uses for why the universe cannot have an infinite past, and a number of counter-rebuttals to rebuttals to his arguments. For example, there was another video involving dividing a length of time into shorter intervals that I thought about also discussing in my previous post, before I realized it would have made it too long. If you want, we can walk through a couple of them in detail, but all of them share the same basic problem. They all involve doing one or both of the following:

            1. Exploit our very poor ability to tell what actually makes for valid reasoning when discussing infinities.

            2. Declare as an a priori metaphysical rule that reality has to behave in a way more closely matching our intuitions.

            The reason why his arguments have these problems is something he touches on occasionally. The mathematics dealing with infinities is rigorous. This means that he cannot actually make an argument showing that allowing actual infinities leads to logical contradictions. He also cannot show that it contradicts observations, since even basic physics explicitly contains infinities and manages to function fine despite that.

          • DaveJ

            I would like to go more in-depth but this might not be the forum to do so.

            1) When it comes to the Hilbert hotel example, Craig didn’t come up with this. David Hilbert of course came up with example to show that actual infinities lead to absurdities and he obviously was very familiar with the mathematics of infinity.

            About your last sentence, of course in basic physics there are infinities but that isn’t talking about an actual infinite. And according to the little I have read, one of the reasons string theory was so appealing is that it was the first theory in particle physics that did away with infinity.

          • Dorfl

            David Hilbert of course came up with example to show that actual infinities lead to absurdities and he obviously was very familiar with the mathematics of infinity.

            I don’t think that was Hilbert’s intention at all. The story of Hilbert’s hotel is a pedagogical device that demonstrates the facts that

            1. There is a bijection between between all positive integers and all integers except one.

            2. There is a bijection between all positive integers and all positive integers divisible by two.

            Most tellings also include a description of guests coming from a hotel of real-numbered rooms, and one being unable to find a free room anywhere in the hotel, demonstrating that

            3. There is no bijection between the integers and the real numbers.

            While Craig uses the story to argue that an actual infinite is impossible, that’s not why Hilbert came up with it originally. He just wanted to explain mathematics, not argue theology.

            About your last sentence, of course in basic physics there are infinities but that isn’t talking about an actual infinite.

            We pretty much always assume that there is a bijection between points in space-time and real numbers, which would make points in space-time an actual infinite. An actual uncountable infinite, even. That’s what I thought about bringing up in this video:


            In it, he claims that people argue that a finite interval can be divided into an arbitrarily large number of sub-intervals and that this forms an actual infinite. This is not what I would actually argue. I would argue that a finite interval is composed of an infinite number of points, and that this forms an actual infinite.

            The distinction between a very short interval and a point is subtle, but makes all the difference. I am not arguing that one could take the interval from t=0 to t=1, divide it into halves with endpoints at t = 0.5, do the same for these at t=0.25 and 0.75, repeating this process an infinite number of times to produce an infinite number of subintervals. This is what WLC argues only produces a potential infinite, since I can’t actually subdivide the interval an infinite number of times. I am arguing that between the points in time t=0 and t=1, there is the point t=0.5, between all these the points t=0.25 and t=0.75 and that since this process can be repeated an infinite number of times, and does nothing more than to point out points in time that already exist, therefore the number of points is infinite.

            And according to the little I have read, one of the reasons string theory was so appealing is that it was the first theory in particle physics that did away with infinity.

            It’s… complicated. Let’s say that the problem was not simply one of metaphysically unappealing infinities, but situations where it is impossible to calculate the probability of different outcomes occurring.

          • DaveJ

            Hey Dorfl, I disagree, the veridical argument that Hilbert uses is, in fact, meant to show that an actual infinity leads to absurdities, but this is besides the point.

            As it pertains to the rest of your post, I feel that I am unqualified to answer without reading up on the issue. So I will concede for now.

            Best regards,


          • Scott Jorgenson

            I would also be careful about accepting Craig’s conclusion here. Hilbert’s hotel, as Craig uses it, strikes me as too similar to some of the paradoxes of Zeno. Zeno says that since nothing (such as traveling a certain distance) can happen without having to encompass an infinite number of smaller things (such as traveling all the distances in between), therefore nothing can happen. After all, otherwise we would have an absurd result: an infinite number of things taking place within a finite span. Yet we know two things: one, that Zeno is correct about how the finite really does, at least mathematically, subdivide into the infinite – there is nothing wrong in his reasoning there; but two, nonetheless to leap from that to his conclusion is unnecessary and incorrect. How Craig uses Hilbert’s hotel strikes me as possibly the same kind of fallacy around infinities.

          • Dorfl

            I’m actually fine with an infinite number of things taking place within a finite span, as long as we’re willing to accept a completely trivial definition of “a thing taking place”.

            If we count “The arrow is at the position P” as a thing that happens, then the number of things that happen will be infinite, as at each real-valued time t the arrow occupies a different position P(t).

        • But they don’t hold up, as Sean Carrol demonstrated quite well. What became clear in that debate is that Craig did not even understand the physicists whose work he was cherry-picking.

  • Gary

    Axis A: Christians | other. Axis B: Those who live positively toward others | those who not-so-much. Four quadrants: 1) Christians who live positively toward others, 2) Christians who don’t live positively toward others, 3) Non-Christians who live positively toward others, and 4) Non-Christians who do not live positively toward others. If it’s really about living positively toward others, why not just make that “the thing?” At best your “defense of the Christian faith” is a defense of being a Christian and living positively toward others. It simply doesn’t defend a broad swath of the Christian faith. While I personally believe the Jesus stuff works, I don’t think it’s about it being the Jesus stuff. It’s the stuff itself, raw goodness for goodness’ sake. If you’re suggesting a reorientation from intellect to goodness, it sounds great. Honestly, I think though it’s more an apologetic for goodness itself than the Christian faith. And goodness doesn’t really need a defense. It just kind of is and gives, even out of an inexplicable nature.

    • Andrew Dowling

      But Christianity can (and note I say can, I don’t think all brands do) provide a spiritual framework (and I think its a strong one) for that ‘goodness’ and I think most people feel some sort of spiritual connection to something transcendent, beyond simple material reality. The world has few pure atheists.

      • Gary

        The world has few pure atheists yet a good number of genuinely good atheists. And the world has few pure Christians–as long as we’re rubbing alongside the No True Scotsman–and yet a good number of genuinely good people. Rather orienting myself along an identifying axis of Christian vs. non-Christian, I’d rather pursue goodness and align myself with all those who do. I think goodness has a better defense. I think it needs no defense as it just simply does good. And furthermore I don’t even really need to artificially align myself with good people–they are already looking out for the best of others. Is there “some sort of spiritual connection to something transcendent, beyond simple material reality?” If the answer is yes, it may be quite significantly through these persons. Christ–Himself–can possibly be conceived as something archetypal if not even genuinely unique among these people in the world. But, this isn’t really “Christianity” without a substantial reworking of terms. If the label “Christian” were the one for encompassing the people making the world this way, I think I would consider it a centrally defining label of my identity. But until then “Christian” is little more than a historically cultural marker of my family and broader in-group’s identity. And to a significant degree, it’s a group that’s lived a way that I have no desire to be a part of.

  • Mark K

    *We are the apologetic.

    I learned lo many years ago (decades!) in teacher school a similar aphorism: We teach who we are. It’s served me well in practice. Meanwhile, all the “experts” who were called in as specialists to preach their brand of “right” to us who actually did the work every day, they have come and gone in that time. The work of being with kids day in and day out, listening, offering, correcting, encouraging, showing, sacrificing, challenging, demanding, nudging, reflecting one’s deepest beliefs; that goes on.

  • There certainly is truth in what you have written, Peter. Our lives are the testimony that our spirit has been reborn by the Living Messiah. I engage in apologetics because it gives non-believers a start towards the very difficult task of surrendering their pride. Apologetics also gets them starting to think about the greater aspects of life, espcecially the concept that our consciousness is more than merely a collection of grey matter.

    But when it comes down to it, my belief is based on my relationship with God Himself, not the Bible or even logical arguement. I was pursuing God through another false religion, and at a crucial point in that pursuit, He actually spoke to me! Just as He did to Abraham, although He didn’t tell me to relocate. He made a Zen Buddhist roshi stand up in the middle of an encourgaement talk, spread out his arms as if he were the Messiah on the cross, and say, “If you have faith in Jesus Christ, you can be saved.” He then sat down.

    But then a male voice spoke the following words clearly into my mind, “My Son, Jesus, has already done it all (for you).” The significance to me was immediately clear – I didn’t need to do any works to obtain my salvation because His Son, Jesus, had done what I was unable to do up to that moment, make myself pure enough, clean enough, to reach and live in His presence.

    A couple of years later He again spoke to me and told me that I was going to move 1,500 miles across the country, which I subsequently did. In the 33 years since the Holy Spirit entered me and changed my life forever, those are the only two times that He has spoken to me in that clear, unmistakeable voice. Ultimately that is what my salvation is based upon. Not upon the Bible, although it’s infallible Word has guided and encouraged me on innumerable occasions. Not through logical arguement, although I have found that I can make a good apologetic defense of my faith.

    My salvation is based on the unmistakeable relationship that I’ve had with Him both through His clear spoken word and through His still small voice that I often hear when I study His Word, the Bible.

    I hope and pray for you that you too are blessed to hear His voice – He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.


    • Gary

      I enjoy these stories of personal experience.

  • Christy

    I understand that for some people apologetics is something that helps break down the walls they have built that keep them from Christ and they are thankful for it, but I personally resonate with this post. I tried to read Groothius’ Christian Apologetics when it was one of CT’s books of the year, but it just seemed so centered in a different epistemology and concerned about things I don’t really care about, I just couldn’t really relate and it wasn’t convincing to me. And I already believed all the stuff they were trying to prove.

    Even if you could prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the universe has a first cause, it doesn’t get you to Yahweh who has made his covenant with his people to bless the world and set all things right. Even if you could prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus rose from the dead, it doesn’t prove he defeated death and the forces of evil and is now the ruling king of the universe. It doesn’t prove your sins are forgiven and you are God’s own child. Even if you can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Bible is the inspired revelation of the one true God, you still have a lot of hard work doing exegesis and hermeneutics to figure out what it means and what you’re supposed to do about it.

    I have personally never met anyone who was argued into the Kingdom. Maybe some people were. But it seems that even those who claim that arguments were the main thing also had some Christians they respected and loved as people “being the apologetic” for them, as Enns put it.

  • Brad

    Sure. But when it comes down to it there are reasons why you’re a Christian and not something else, right? Surely it is worth articulating, discussing, and even defending those reasons?

    • Gary

      The better testimonies seem to simply focus on what changed one’s way of being.

    • peteenns

      Oh absolutely. Nothing I say here contradicts that. I’ve written a lot where the exercise of reason is at the forefront. But I don’t for one minute think that I have demonstrated that the intellectual superiority of Christianity, that it is the most consistent, reasonable, etc. Rather, I am giving an account (as 1 Peter says) for the hope, etc., etc.

      A mistake several commenters are making here is in thinking that “apologetics” and “reasoned discussion” are the same thing. They aren’t.

  • Wayfaring Michael

    In a throw-away during a Q&A after one of his talks I saw on YouTube, Walter Brueggemann said, and I think this is almost word for word, “The good news is that we are not called to be perfect. We are called to be faithful.”

    To put it another way, when we are judged on the last day, it won’t be with an essay test or oral exam on theology. We will be judged–like the rich man Dives, and his buddy who was planning to build bigger barns on that faithful day–by how we lived.

    I’m a retired (non-theology) academic who didn’t really start studying theology and even read the Bible much outside of a few sections until I was in my early 50s–could you guess I was raised Catholic(?)–and now that’s what I love doing with most of my free time. But because much of that study is based in Brueggemann, N. T. Wright, Abraham Heschel, Walter Rauschenbusch, and many more, I know that the important part is how we live the Gospel, not what we know about it.

    (I was going to throw in even that Martian guy Enns, but then I remembered how he cleared that up, and he’s not really a Martian. And since I have a dollar to spare this month, I can say that he’s actually a bibliogian, and a really good one too.)

    But seriously folks…

    I attended a Catholic elementary school, and in the fifth and sixth grade we learned grammar and how to diagram sentences, which I’m not sure they even do much at all any more. Beyond letting Texas fundamentalists be the ones to grant the imprimatur and nihil obstat to our K-12 public school textbooks–there’s one of the weirdest things in American history for you–not teaching grammar is, I think, one of the worst things about our educational system.

    James and Paul, whatever Martin Luther may have thought, agreed that the Christian lives by faith and that faith is shown in works.

  • Daniel Fisher

    “Showing that this Jesus stuff works. That there’s payoff. Now.”

    If I may borrow from that [infamous?] apologist C.S. Lewis to offer a rejoinder for consideration….

    “If Christianity is untrue, no honest man will want to believe it, however helpful it may be: if it is true, every honest man will want to believe it, even if it gives him no help at all.”

    • peteenns

      If Lewis means what you imply him to mean, than I simply disagree with him. But I know Lewis pretty well and I wonder where his quote comes from. He had his own growth process as an apologist where he moved beyond the “Josh McDowellesque” vibe of this quote.

      • Richard Goulette

        Hi Pete, I believe that comes from Mere Christianity. Another quote of his worth alluding to:

        “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

        I only write this because of his influence on some of the greatest former atheists of the last century(notably Francis Collins), and how his style led them to Christ-and that’s the rub-his winsome style and engagement, not a holier than thou smiting with the Mace of Cuthbert.

        • Proud Amelekite

          ” A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would
          not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the
          level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be
          the Devil of Hell”

          Does Lewis bother to qualify these assertions? I have a hard time believing a man who taught turn the other cheek and love thy neighbor is either a lunatic or a devil. Martin Luther King Jr taught crazy things too, but you would be hard pressed to find people saying his teachings were madness or a contemptible evil. Not meaning to offend Lewis fans but I have never read Mere Christianity.

          • Daniel Fisher

            If interesting, Lewis’ does qualify – qualification is that he is referencing not the basic moral teachings; rather, the comments or acts of Jesus such as his forgiving people their sins, and his claims that he will deny people at the end of time if they were ashamed of him, that people would see him coming on the clouds of angels, that he would return to judge people and his decision would send them off to their eternal fate…. things that are beyond crazy, things that no one like MLK Jr or Ghandi or Muhammad or anyone else said anything even remotely close. I grant he has something there – most of us might agree that someone who said that they personally would be returning in glory with angels at the end of time to be the final judge over the destiny of all people is a complete nutcase…. this would be certifiable madness if it wasn’t in fact true.

          • Proud Amelekite

            I disagree, somewhat.

            Take the Thomas Jefferson approach to Christ and merely take his teachings and life while cutting away the rest, for example. In this, the moral teachings were sound and resound with humanity in a deep way. As violent as people can be, we respect the path of nonviolence and the path of forgiving your enemies more. This is far from madness: it is actually quite genius. There is a reason that the world is forgetting Christianity but not his parables: for example, the secular world knows the story of the Good Samaritan well. It takes a fantastic teacher to pull that off. If taking this approach, you cut out the returning and judgement bits because you are only viewing him as a teacher, not a messiah figure.

            On the other hand, lets take the Bible whole hog, as is, miracles and all. In this case, you have a man claiming to come back to judge the living and the dead on a cloud of white. This would only seem nutty if you didn’t take the miracles into account. You, for example, I would never believe if you said that. If you, however, raised my dead father back to life, healed the blind, walked on water, could fabricate a ton of food from very little, and so on I would be less inclined to believe the claim to be madness. In the modern age, you would be like a comic book superhero and anything would be possible.

      • Daniel Fisher

        I’d be curious to understand better exactly how/why you disagree…. do you mean that people should believe something that they know, or even suspect, to be untrue, if doing so bestows some perceived benefit?

        NB, The quote is from “Man or Rabbit,” the title of an essay originally derived I believe from a pamphlet ~1945. He certainly matured as we all do, but not to the degree he would have denounced his basic sentiment that Christianity claims certain objective truths about reality. As for what he means, I’ll offer the larger context, try to let him speak for himself; I would hate to be guilty of implying anything…

        “One of the things that distinguishes man from the other animals is that he wants to know things, wants to find out what reality is really like, simply for the sake of knowing. When that desire is completely quenched in anyone, I think he has become something less than human. As a matter of fact, I don’t believe any of you have really lost that desire. More probably, foolish preachers, by always telling you how much Christianity will help you and how good it is for society, have actually led you to forget that Christianity is not a patent medicine. Christianity claims to give an account of facts – to tell you what the real universe is like. Its account of the universe may be true, or it may not, and once the question is really before you, then your natural inquisitiveness must make you want to know the answer. If Christianity is untrue, then no honest man will want to believe it, however helpful it might be: if it is true, every honest man will want to believe it, even if it gives him no help at all.”

        • Andrew Dowling

          The essence of Christianity is not an accounting of facts.

          • buttle

            “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised.”

          • Pete E.

            I have a policy that simply quoting verses is verboten. You need to make your case for what this is important. Otherwise I will delete the comment.

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            Ooh. Will you leave it if I do it for him? I want to interact with it.

          • buttle

            I didn’t know about the policy, sorry. I thought that the intent of the quote was self explanatory in the given context, but now that i think about it not adding an explanation might be seen a little as “bragging” or something, so again sorry.

            I think that for Paul Christianity was all about the facts, and believing the correct ones, and i think that quote is evidence of that. That doesn’t prevent someone from testifying to the facts with good deeds or any other way, Paul himself would agree and he is open to other apostles preaching their way, but the facts are essentials. I don’t see how then one can believe in facts based on deeds performed by others or by oneself, every religion could make the same claim, but that’s an unrelated issue.

            I think this conflicts with the claim that “The essence of Christianity is not an accounting of facts”, as stated by Andrew Dowling. It actually is, or at least it was back then to the first christians.

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            What other statements from Paul lead you to believe that “for Paul, Christianity was all about the facts, and believing the correct ones?”

            This is the same Paul who hijacked Habakkuk to prove that both Jew and Gentile would be justified by their faithfulness.

          • buttle

            “What other statements from Paul lead you to believe that “for Paul, Christianity was all about the facts, and believing the correct ones?””

            Uh? I’d say plenty, like the whole Galatian 1?

            “This is the same Paul who hijacked Habakkuk to prove that both Jew and Gentile would be justified by their faithfulness.”

            I… don’t follow… Paul hijacked pretty much the whole Tanak for his purposes, but he interpreted a lot of things as both facts and predictions of future facts that actually happened. To be clear: if you came to think God sent personally to you a revelatory message obscured in the words and acts of ancient prophets you would call that a fact, right? Those predictions were his gospel, “according to scripture” over and over. And no matter how well you behaved, you wouldn’t get resurrected if you didn’t believe those things that he reputed facts. At least according to Paul, surely James and maybe Peter didn’t agree with some of those facts, but nobody cares about James and foreskins nowdays, right?

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            I’m relatively certain that Paul’s gospel is primarily about faithfulness in your perseverance and not doctrinal assertions. I mean, I suppose you could say that Jesus being king is or that the kingdom has arrived or that God was about to deliver Israel and judge the nations are all “facts,” but not really facts in the sense that apologetics is concerned with. At least, I’ve never had a debate with an atheist that God was about to deliver Israel or that Jesus was king.

            If the gospel is primarily about proper belief, the thief on the cross is screwed.

          • buttle

            “I’m relatively certain that Paul’s gospel is primarily about faithfulness in your perseverance and not doctrinal assertions.”

            I can hardly make sense of this. What are you going to be faithful to if you don’t provide doctrinal assertions? And Paul does provide them, and fights over them. Why persevere in being a good person (i would guess that is your understanding?) if that is not sufficient to get saved? Again, Paul explicitly claims that in 1 Corinthians 15 and elsewhere, it takes quite a twisted reading to not get what he is clearly saying.

            “If the gospel is primarily about proper belief, the thief on the cross is screwed.”

            The gospel of Paul is clearly primarily about proper belief, that’s why Paul even spells them out in lists. The thief on the cross is a later invention by an author not sufficiently concerned with its potential theological inconsistencies with the doctrine of Paul, but that was not his purpose, so i wouldn’t judge it by that standard.

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            I think you’re arguing with what I’m not saying. I’m not saying there are no propositional statements involved in the gospel. You can’t have good news without news.

            Like I said, if you’re talking about assertions like “Jesus is king and is about to judge the nations” or “God has raised Jesus from the dead, thus vindicating him as the Son of Man,” then that’s fine, although these statements aren’t really defended so much as asserted.

            But when Paul talks about faithful perserverance, he isn’t talking about faithfully defending a set of propositions. He’s talking about continuing to follow the path of Christ despite persecution. He’s not talking about defending the truths of Christianity in the marketplace of ideas.

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            I think you meant to say something like this:

            “The essence of Christianity is certainly an accounting of facts. For instance, the fact of the resurrection! Look how important this fact is to Paul, as illustrated in the following passage….”

            Contra the point made by me by you, I offer the following observations:

            1) Paul does not defend the historicity of the resurrection. He asserts it and points out the consequences for the Corinthians if it didn’t happen. He is not trying to establish the resurrection happened; he’s saying that, if the resurrection didn’t happen, they’re all screwed and Paul is a false teacher. This is not quite apologetics, at least in the sense Pete’s article is addressing.

            2) There is a difference between Paul’s assertion to the Corinthians and what ramifications it may or may not have for us. Paul wants the early church to survive their upcoming, serious troubles that they have already begun to experience in the forms of imprisonment and martyrdom. If the martyrs are not raised, then their faithfulness is in vain. This is a very practical issue for the Corinthian church at the time. Paul is not saying the fact of the resurrection is an epistemic hinge on which Christianity stands or falls. Whether it is or not is something we might decide -theologically-, but it’s not Paul’s argument.

          • buttle

            “he’s saying that, if the resurrection didn’t happen, they’re all screwed and Paul is a false teacher.”

            I hope i’m not failing the syllogism, but you are just writing that since Paul believes to be a true teacher, the resurrection did happen. So he is defending the resurrection. On his authority, which is bad apologetic, but still apologetic. Anyway i wasn’t responding on the usefulness of apologetics, just on that postmodernist meme of christianity not being essentially about facts.

            “If the martyrs are not raised, then their faithfulness is in vain.”

            Again, maybe i’m wrong, but I see no martyrs in 1 Corinthians, can you clarify? The way i see it there were some deaths among the early christians in Corinth before the expected parousia (for example because people age and die), some argued that they were not going to be resurrected, maybe someone argued that this resurrection thing wasn’t a real fact after all, there were all kinds of infighting over leadership and probably theology too. Paul responds that the deads will come back and be given a new body at the parousia, and the living will have to change body too. These are all essential facts, christianity would have no purpose without them, and he claims so. It’s hard to see that as not taking a clear stand on the epistemic fact of the resurrection, both of Christ and of every christian.
            I don’t know what difference this make to you, to me it makes none, maybe it could make a difference to someone claiming that facts are not essentuals to christianity.

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            Sure, the suffering and martyrdom of the early church and their upcoming eschatological crisis is a primary theme in Paul’s letters, especially since he planted many of those churches.

            In 1 Corinthians, we see some allusions to it, such as the opening greeting saying that God will “preserve you to the end,” but the theme comes out more clearly in 3:13-17. The upcoming and proximate judgement of God then forms the basis for his exhortations to unify, purge out the immoral from among them, and to remain in their current state instead of getting married or working to change their social status.

            In the famous “love” chapter, Paul cites different examples of faithfulness and contrasts them to (not) having love. One of those examples is giving up his body to be burned.

            When we finally get to 15, Paul reminds them of the good news in which “you are being saved.” Saved from what? Given the way this chapter goes, the obvious answer is dying. But not just living out a long life and dying a natural death. That would not concern anyone, nor would it draw the ire of the Jewish power structure in Jerusalem, many of whom -believed in a resurrection-.

            What makes the resurrection scandalous is that the resurrection is a vindication of the people being persecuted, just as it was for Jesus Christ. 29-34 really cinches it up. Paul asks what he would gain by fighting off beasts in Ephesus if the dead are not raised. That is martyrdom.

            The chapter closes with Paul saying that God gives them “victory” and encourages them to be “steadfast, immovable.” Steadfast and immovable against what? Victorious over what?

            In 2 Corinthians, Paul says that the Corinthians share in his sufferings, and that their mutual sufferings allow them to mutually comfort each other. In 4:7-16, Paul tells them not to lose heart, because even though they are in constant suffering, they will not be broken and God will raise them from the dead as He raised Jesus from the dead.

            Ok, I’m getting tired of looking for references, but that’s just the Corinthian church. You can’t separate Paul’s instructions from his apocalyptism and the rumblings of persecution at work in the first century.

            The point is, Jesus who died a faithful martyr’s death was raised from the dead by God, thus vindicating him over the people who killed him. This paradigm is the path of Jesus for the Corinthians, who will suffer, but if they stand fast, they will be saved. Some by being raised, but all will be changed.

          • buttle

            “preserve you to the end”

            No martyrs here, just a best wishes and a reference to his belief in the end of the world soon to come.


            He’s talking about the divisive theologies: together the corinthians are the temple of god, if they let a stray doctrine separate them they are condemning themselves, because the fire coming on the day of the parousia will test them. It is clear from the context, because the passage is surrounded by a castigation of foolish and divisive claims to leadership in the church. No martyrs here. Years laters the corinthians have the same problems with leadership, as testified by 1 Clement, and even there no mention of martyrs in Corinth.

            “One of those examples is giving up his body to be burned.”

            No, the example is giving his body to be flogged, something that he claims to have personally endured at the hands of fellow jews. But even conceding the burning, that doesn’t mean the problem in Corinth was martyrdom, it would be just a stark contrast to their rebellious pride, a rethorical point. 1 Clement quotes scores of biblical figures enduring pain as counterexamples to the pride of the self-appointed leaders of Corinth, and never mention a single notable martyr from Corinth, which would be quite appropriate if they knew of some.

            “Saved from what? Given the way this chapter goes, the obvious answer is dying. But not just living out a long life and dying a natural death. That would not concern anyone, nor would it draw the ire of the Jewish power structure in Jerusalem, many of whom -believed in a resurrection-.”

            Now you are kidding, right? What about saved from eternal death? Billions of christians for thousands of years have been seriously concerned about that, why not Paul and the corinthians? I don’t know how the jews of Jerusalem are relevant, but jews had plenty of issues with the abolishment of the temple cult (the core concept of christianity), with the abolishment of the sabbath (claimed by the book of Hebrews), and with scores of Paul’s doctrines.

            “What makes the resurrection scandalous is that the resurrection is a vindication of the people being persecuted, just as it was for Jesus Christ.”

            Not sure what you are talking about, jews loved their martyrdom stories, such as the mother with 7 sons in 2 Maccabees, and shared with christians the idea of a future resurrection vindicating the unjust death of the righteous people. The disagreement with early christians was specifically on what kind of Christ to expect, not generally on martyrdom or resurrection. Greeeks were equally adamant of suffering characters being vindicated, and their literature is full of them.

            “Paul asks what he would gain by fighting off beasts in Ephesus if the dead are not raised. That is martyrdom.”

            Wait a minute… Are you claiming that those are not human opponents on doctrine, as he claims in the very next chapter, but literally wild beasts in a roman amphitheater? You believe they sent Paul to be eaten by some lions, that Paul survived, and that they let him go free? Are you serious?

            “Steadfast and immovable against what? Victorious over what?”

            It’s clear from the context. Heretical doctrines. Death on the day of the parousia. Listen, i’m not saying that he wouldn’t or couldn’t recommend death over apostasy, he’s just not doing it here because this wasn’t the occasion.

            “In 4:7-16, Paul tells them not to lose heart, because even though they are in constant suffering, they will not be broken”

            There are a lot of ways to suffer. Separation from family. Public derision. Social exclusion. Financial difficulties. You can’t even be sure that Paul isn’t including diseases or natural death of loved ones. Back in the day violence was way more common than now, so even physical abuse is quite possible. But martyrdom at the hand of authorities is not the first thing crossing the mind of Paul while addressing the corinthian church. The only possible accusation would be disrespect of the roman emperor or the roman state cult, yet Paul never shows that to be a problem. It would be nice if some hint of this was provided in 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians and 1 Clement, but surprisingly they lack any detail, unlike for the actual martyr Justin a century later, so why assume the problems described were caused by external persecution to the point of martyrdom? They most probably weren’t in the middle of the first century.

            “You can’t separate Paul’s instructions from his apocalyptism and the rumblings of persecution at work in the first century.”

            Actually you are ignoring the urgency of his apocalyptism by projecting it on unsupported claims of martyrdom in the middle of the first century.

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            I’ll grant you plausible explanations, but I disagree.

            Of course there was Christian martyrdom in the first century. What did Paul do before his conversion? Persecution from the Jewish theological hegemony in Jerusalem was alive and well. At the time, the Roman Empire was not much of a persecutor of the early church, but that doesn’t mean the early church was not persecuted, and Paul himself is an example.

            In fact, it was during Paul’s missionary work -in Corinth- (Acts 18) that, despite those in the synagogue “opposing and reviling him,” he received a vision where God told him not to be afraid of being attacked. Apparently, that was a possibility, and after a year and a half, he was attacked by a group of them and dragged before the courts on false charges.

            Paul alone in his journeys is in prison, evades at least two planned attempts on his life, escapes riots, and in his confession in Acts 22 says, “I persecuted the Way unto death.” Just because persecution from the Empire hasn’t kicked in doesn’t mean these early Christ followers aren’t being persecuted and killed. They are, which informs Paul’s theology about being conformed to the image of Christ and completing his sufferings.

            Why does Paul encourage the Corinthians to “stand firm” if all he has in mind is being made fun of and financial difficulties. It’s -possible-, sure, but I don’t find it likely.

            It’s interesting that you mention the seven sons in Maccabees, because that text helps establish the Jewish theology of martyrdom and resurrection. It applies to Jesus resurrection and the early church’s hope for resurrection. Being “faithful unto death” means being faithful in the face of martyrdom, not being faithful until you die a natural death at some indeterminate point in the future.

            I find no evidence that Paul or anyone else is concerned with “eternal death” in the abstract. This is a Greco-Roman theological synthesis of the gospel to bring it into their world and life, but it abstracts it from its historical particulars.

          • Andrew Dowling

            That passage does not mean what you think it means . . .

          • buttle

            Uhm… This reminds me of an old jedi mind-trick on searching drones…

    • Kim Fabricius

      Er, true, absolutely, but unhelpful in this conversation because it’s a statement that even the most belligerent opponent of apologetics would accept. Its main virtue is to scorn a makes-you-happy/healthy/wealthy/etc. utilitarian faith. “This Jesus stuff works” only and insofar as it kills you.

      Btw, I’d be careful about using Lewis as a poster-boy apologist for straight-up evangelical Christianity: he denied inerrancy, disliked models of penal substitution, believed in purgatory and prayers for the dead, acknowledged the Mass, said that non-Christians can be saved, accepted evolution; and — lifestyle-wise — smoked heavily, drank copiously, and was known to swear.

      • Daniel Fisher

        “smoked heavily, drank copiously, and was know to swear.”

        And the problem with this is….? Granted, I would never claim to be what many might call a “straight-up evangelical”…. 😉

        • Phil Ledgerwood

          I knew I liked you for some reason, Daniel.

  • Brian Cox

    When I came back to God, and subsequently to Jesus, I needed apologetics not to fortify me so much from the non-believing world, but from much of the disconcertingly thoughtless belief and disturbing biblical interpretations in my own church circles. He had my heart, but spending twenty years as an agnostic had given me the permanent habit of questioning everything. C. S. Lewis came to the rescue. He became my mentor and friend.

    Oh, and Peter, it was this habit of questioning which led me to buy your book.

    • peteenns

      I hear you. Brian. You realize, though, that most of my writing is about addressing “disconcertingly thoughtless belief and disturbing biblical interpretations.” Assume my post does not contradict my body of writing and then I think you’ll see the point I am making.

  • Dan Williams

    I agree with Peter that we are the apologetic to the world.
    Francis Schaeffer made this argument many years ago from what Christ said, recorded in John 13, that…
    …34″A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35″By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

    This might be considered in the realm of ‘evidential apologetics’. The works that Jesus did…
    John 5
    36″But the testimony which I have is greater than the testimony of John; for the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish– the very works that I do– testify about Me, that the Father has sent Me. 3

    I think there is room for 1 Peter 3:15 as well
    14But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED, 15but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; 16and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.…

    Just because Peter doesn’t care for ‘apologetics’ doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have value. Frankly I was convinced of the validity of Christ through reason and argument first and have continued because of a credible apologetic.

  • Matt Monaghan

    Agreed, Christianity needs to move towards ‘realized’ instead of ‘reward’ eschatology; the here and now.

    • Gary

      “Needs to,” why? Fear-fed escapist sheep can be fleeced.

  • W Kumar

    This is one of the best responses I have to to the barrage of endless books, websites, debates, etc, that I have seen during a lifetime spent in the Evangelical Church. This is not to say that there isn’t value in apologetics, but I have personally seen (and experienced) what happens when apologetics becomes the go to for living out faith. Instead of living as Christ would want us to live, I have seen some believe that the intellect is the way, the truth, and the light. There is a place for the intellect, but it isn’t everything.

  • Phil Ledgerwood

    In reading through these comments, one thread I see come up a lot is the intellectual vs. the heart dichotomy. I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that dichotomy or the notion that Christianity is primarily pre- or anti-rational (or that it’s primarily rational, for that matter).

    To me, the issue is more: are people drawn to the kingdom and faith in Jesus because of the rigor of our logic or the weight of evidence about the validity of the Bible, or are people drawn to the kingdom and faith in Jesus because they see a Spirit-filled community exhibiting radical love and care, eschewing worldly power and influence, giving sacrificially, and loving their enemies?

    I’d say the answer to that is strongly the latter.

    When Peter says to have a reason for the hope that is in us, I seriously doubt he is thinking of things like the Teleological Argument. He is probably thinking of things like the resurrected Christ, God’s faithfulness to His promises, and the activity of the Spirit in the church.

    • Gary

      I think people come for one reason: “Because they see a Spirit-filled community exhibiting radical love and care, eschewing worldly power and influence, giving sacrificially, and loving their enemies.”

      I think they leave for two reasons: 1) Because they DON’T see a Spirit-filled community exhibiting radical love and care, eschewing worldly power and influence, giving sacrificially, and loving their enemies. 2) Rigor, evidence, and validity-related things. I see no need for dichotomy. A clear-headed thinking and warm-hearted caring can–if not inevitably will–win in the end.

  • Daniel Fisher

    “Whether it is a help or a torment, I want only one thing, I want to belong to Christ, I want to be a Christian.” -S. Kierkegaard

    Just another thought to toss into the discussion. I see what you’re getting at; I’m just dubious about the degree to which our apologetic depends on convincing people that the Jesus stuff “works” and that there’s a payoff in the here and now – unless we’re clear that the “payoff” may include being tortured, flogged, mocked, stoned, sawn in half, living destitute, etc., (i.e., Hebrews 11 kind of stuff)?

    • Gary

      Personally, I don’t think the “does it ‘work”” question is an individualistic issue. I think it’s much more historic, anthropological, or perhaps even cosmic in the orthodox Christian claim. The real question is whether or not humanity and the cosmos itself had a definitive pivot, a new trajectory, a first fruit of a new Kingdom about two thousand years ago. I don’t think “this is how your individualistic existence could be made new” is enough. And two thousand years in, I don’t think “this is how the world *could be* made new” is timely. Now, I think we have to ask “is the world being made new through the followers of Jesus of Nazareth?” I don’t think the bar is merely that the “Jesus stuff ‘works.'” I think the bar that must be demonstrated is that it has worked, is working, and will work. Is the cosmos being redeemed? Is a new way of being being ushered in? Most of the Christianity I’ve anecdotally observed over my decades and the centuries I’ve studied simply seems more interested in other things as their both means and end.

  • Paul D.

    I think the problem for Christianity is “belief in what?”. If the religion’s essence is belief in a certain set of historical events, in the existence of powerful metaphysical entities, or in a certain conceptualization of the universe, you’re going to have a problem. Those are all matters that can be analyzed by scientific investigation; it follows, then, that they could all be mistaken, and beliefs have to be provisional pending the outcome of the investigation. (And at best, results that do not outright refute historical Christian beliefs, like the geocentric view of the cosmos, will give only probabilistic support.)

    However, if that belief involves commitment to certain ideals and ways of treating other people, then we have something to work with. Perhaps the best treatment I can think of comes from Terry Pratchett in his fantasy novel The Hogfather. It concerns a conversation between Death (who speaks in all-caps) and one of the protagonists:


    “All right,” said Susan. “I’m not stupid. You’re saying humans need… fantasies to make life bearable.”


    “Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little—”


    “So we can believe the big ones?”


    “They’re not the same at all!”


    “Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what’s the point—”


    • Gary

      The challenge is that “commitment to certain ideals and ways of treating other people” seems more aligned with the idealistic center of humanism and the good aspects of all faiths than what’s distinctively within the edges of historical and modern Christianity as both professed and lived. There may well indeed by “some rightness in the universe by which it may be judged.” It simply seems that after two millennia it–at this point–appears that the heft of Christianity simply is not distinctively the redemptive force. This is the issue, no?

      • Paul D.

        Well, if Christianity wants to distance itself from humanistic ideals and the “good aspects of all faiths” simply to be different, and in so doing, replaces its most beneficial aspects with recycled medieval theology about atonement and demons and the authority of the church, then I’m not sure what use it is to anyone.

        Theology may be interesting for its own sake, but for the most part, it’s a complicated system of non-scientific propositions that can never be proven, based on an epistemology of authority (“believe as you’re told”). The world has many pressing needs, but it’s hard to see how theology is going to meet any of them.

        • Gary

          I tell my kids this: “Grin and nod.”

        • Andrew Dowling

          Humanism sprang forth from Christianity; the fathers of the Enlightenment were a bunch of liberal Christians heavily influenced by the egalitarianism found within the teachings of Jesus. Despite the wishes of many fundamentalists; Christianity can’t distance itself from humanism anymore than a father can deny his son is not biologically his.

        • Phil Ledgerwood

          This is a great point.

          It’s my contention that the “recycled medieval theology” as you aptly put it has defined Christianity in terms that are not historical or biblical – they are purely theological abstractions and, in my view, radically distort the Church’s identity and mission.

          I don’t know that Christianity is particularly different from any other group in the “doing good in the world” department. What makes her different is her (up and down) relationship with Jesus’ God and her attempt to embody the activity of His Spirit. Whether this looks on the outside dramatically different than any other philanthropic organization, I’m not sure, and I also don’t think that’s a cause for concern.

          There are elements such as the sacrificial seeking of communal welfare, witness through martyrdom, etc. that would be different than many other organizations, although perhaps other religions could also make the same claims.

          I’ll need to think about this some more, but thanks for raising the critique.

  • Gary

    Dr Enns had rhetorically asked, what’s the best defense of Christianity? The better part of the dialogue here has stepped away from firing line of direct response to that question and instead seems to have diverted aim to a different question: What’s the defense of the best Christianity.

  • kzarley

    There is a lot I disagree with in this post. I’ll just a“Christian apologetics” presumes that the intellect is the primary place of engaging the truth of Christianity.” Wrong. If I like to sing hymns, does that presume that my emotions are the primary place of engaging the truth of Christianity? No! You are off balance with this post. The bible says love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. So, we should do all. If someone prefers one such category more than others, that’s probably where their spiritual gift or gifts lie.

    • Phil Ledgerwood

      The article is suggesting that living faithful lives is more convincing and winsome than intellectual arguments. Do you disagree with this and, if so, why?

  • raylampert

    Are you honestly suggesting that it doesn’t matter whether or not Christianity’s claims and doctrines are true? Because it sure seems that way to me.

    • Phil Ledgerwood

      I’d reread the article, then. It says nothing remotely like that.

      • Gary

        Whether or not it says that perhaps reflects on what one conceives to be “Christianity’s claims and doctrines.”

        • Phil Ledgerwood

          Fair enough.

  • hoosier_bob

    One of the reasons I left evangelicalism is that I tended to notice an inverse correlation between one’s obsession with the “truth” of Christianity (or, more accurately, Christianity as it is supposedly laid out in the Biblical text) and the degree to which people’s lives seemed to be shaped by Christ’s radical grace.

    In most cases, my non-Christian colleagues at work were more reliable and giving in their friendship than the “Christians” in the evangelical churches I was attending. I made this comment to a pastor. He responded that my judgment was unfair because our culture has a very “feminized” view of love. He noted that there is no greater love that one can have toward a sinner than to tell him that he’s believing a lie and in danger of going to hell. I responded that I felt that he was believing a lie and in danger of going to hell. The response was not well taken.

    • Gary

      I’ve wondered of those on the “truth” campaign often leave two thing behind in the journey: 1) Radical grace and 2) acceptance of fact-based truth (common knowledge based upon the findings of the scientific method). If I could try to bring those two items together perhaps it would be this: Acceptance of and love for the world as it is. It seems a rather deep irony for a nominal follower of Jesus of Nazareth to not have profound and intrinsic inquisitive compassion for the paradox of beauty and brokenness that life, especially human life, on earth is.

      Yet, family and friends are immersed. What’s left much beyond profound pity and little hope for change?

  • The problem with apologetics is that too many apologists do not tell the truth, or tell half-truths at best. If a person of faith is actually interested in the facts and relies upon such apologists she will be severely jaded as a result. Any sort of apologetics which seeks to deny the tenuous nature of faith and insists that its worldview can be undeniably confirmed will sink not only itself, but the faith of many earnestly seeking the truth, who will find that the “faith” offered by the apologist is little but smoke and mirrors. This brand of apologetics I’ve encountered seeks to strip away the core element of faith and make “faith” into the intellectual equivalent of comfort food regarding matters historical, scientific, and epistemological. But the people I know who are the best exemplars of their faith are not concerned with defending it from the pressures of science and scholarship – they are too busy living it out.

    • Gary

      Perhaps only superficially different from other faiths (and non-faith too)–a minority somehow bent on making the world right. From what I read of the stories, those are the folks, and often simple and broken folks, with which Jesus of Nazareth found the greatest affinity. It’s less a “defense of the Christian faith” and more simply living as He lived (and died and, somehow it seems, lives again in a inexplicable defeat of death by death).