Monthly Archives: February 2015

Why Study the Skeptics?

Personal Discipleship Week 3 Class Presentation

Click on the images inside this file to link to the online resources. (You may need to adjust your browser settings to allow the links to work, or open it in iBooks, or save it to your desktop and open it with Acrobat Reader.)

Have you ever been blindsided by a hostile comment about your faith? For whatever reasons, someone has a chip on their shoulder about Christians. Maybe you weren’t even talking about anything spiritual, and they let go a pejorative that hits you like ice water in the face. If they’re angry and intelligent, you might hear a diatribe that is well articulated and seems to challenge your Christian worldview in a really disturbing way.

If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, welcome to the real world. Skepticism is nothing new.

“Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Matthew 5:11,12 (NKJV)

Being on the receiving end of mocking and ridicule is bad enough, but how do you respond to the underlying challenge?

Personal discipleship is more than a process—it’s a lane to drive in when your faith is challenged. One of the (many) reasons that ice water in the face feels so cold is that we are poorly prepared to graciously address the underlying objections. Not just poorly prepared in terms of having a pithy response, but poorly prepared to engage in a manner that is gentle and respectful. Bobby Conway says the purpose of apologetics is to remove barriers to the Christian faith. Apologetics is not about winning arguments. Got it. But we have little chance of presenting Christ in a favorable light if we don’t know where people are coming from—emotionally and intellectually.

Dr. Norman Geisler

Dr. Norman Geisler

Dr. Norman Geisler gave an interview to Apologetics315 in which he made some statements that get at the heart of the matter. Geisler is a prolific author, systematic theologian, philosopher, and professor. He has founded two evangelical seminaries and was the chief architect behind the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. He is a standard-bearer for conservative Christian doctrine.

“I learned a lot from all skeptics. I tell my students that I spend most of my time studying and teaching what I don’t believe, namely the history of philosophy, and I’m writing a book on it now, The History of Philosophy From a Christian Point of View. You have to have a knowledge of what’s going on, that’s the bread and butter, that’s the standing on the shoulders of giants. As someone said, ‘You can learn more from the error of a great mind than you can the truths of a small mind.’ Because, the error of a great mind is a significant error, and you learn a lot from significant errors. Furthermore, I would encourage reading atheists because when I see the fallacies, the flimsy grounds upon which they base their belief, it encourages me in my own faith. So, I don’t read Streams in the Desert, or Daily Bread for devotion, I read atheists. Because they’re encouraging Nietzsche, and Freud, and Fromm, and Feuerbach, and Schopenhauer, and all the great atheists. Because as I read them, I strengthen my own faith, I see how to answer the fallacies in their writings, and I’m able to do what the Bible tells me—to destroy arguments and every proud obstacle against the knowledge of God and bring every thought captive to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).”

So why study the skeptics? To encourage and strengthen your own faith, so that you can destroy arguments and proud obstacles to the knowledge and love of God. And always with gentleness and respect.

Who Are the Most Influential Skeptics Today?

Bill Nye, the Science Guy.  Comedian and science educator for a generation of young people.  Now a participant in the culture wars??

What do cultural celebrities like Bill Nye, Richard Dawkins, Neil de Grasse Tyson, Bart Ehrman, and Bill Maher all have in common? In different ways, the represent different forms of skepticism about the Christian faith.

In a recent Sunday School class on “Personal Discipleship,” I was asked this question: Who are the most influential skeptics today? 

How does one go about answering such a question? According to Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, in his magisterial A Secular Age, a few hundred years ago it was virtually impossible not to believe in God. But nowadays, the shift is remarkable: for many in 21st century Western culture, it is very easy, almost inescapable, to not believe in God. Skepticism defines the current cultural mood, something that would have been mostly unthinkable just a few centuries ago.

Instead of trying to come up with some type of “Top Ten” skeptics list, I think it best to list out some of the more skeptical personalities today, each person representing a different type of skepticism that an evangelical Christian believer might encounter in their conversations with their neighbors, co-workers and even family members. So here we go….
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Stephen Fry and the God of Oscar Wilde

Stephen Fry is an English comedian. Though not as well-known on the American side “of the pond,” Stephen Fry was interviewed on Ireland’s Public Service television recently where he expressed his views on God. The video went viral on YouTube, numbering over 5 million views in less that 2 weeks. Fry, like many skeptics, does not find satisfaction with how a “God” could create a world with so much suffering and evil in it… and that description is putting it…as they say…rather mildly (be forewarned).

In response, Justin Brierley, the British radio personality who moderates the Unbelievable radio podcast, a show I highly recommend, draws inspiration from one of Stephen Fry’s literary heroes, Oscar Wilde (the text of Brierley’s remarks can be found here). Though mostly known as being a skeptic, Oscar Wilde converted to Catholicism in the last few days of his life.

Casting aside questions about Roman Catholicism for the moment, how do you see Justin Brierley painting a different portrait of God than what Stephen Fry rails against? Oscar Wilde’s The Selfish Giant can be read here.

What About the Cavemen?

Some of this Veracity blogger's distance relatives, or just a really bad TV show from the 1960s? (It's About Time).

Some of this Veracity blogger’s distance relatives, or just a really bad TV show from the 1960s? (It’s About Time).

One of the most persistent challenges in trying to reconcile Biblical truth with the findings of modern science is this: What do you do with the cavemen?

The mainstream scientistic consensus today is that there have been human-like creatures discovered in the ancient fossil record that predate humans like you and me. Names such as Cro-Magnon man, homo erectus, and the neanderthal fill our imaginations with images of semi-ape, semi-human creatures hobbling or running around with crude tools, making grunting noises, many of them living in… well… caves. My wife thinks I must be related at times to these creatures, particularly when I get out of bed in the morning, bumping into things when I am barely awake!!

But seriously, could it be that these brute creatures are related to us, we homo-sapiens, or is such a concept alien to the teaching of the Bible? Does the existence of these creatures insult or even undermine the Christian concept of the special status of humanity’s uniqueness?

News within recent years suggests that there is some evidence of actual interbreeding between modern humans and neanderthals thousands of years ago, as in this story from the British Natural History museum:

So what does the Bible have to say regarding creatures like the neanderthal?
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Keeping It Real

Personal Discipleship Week 2

Click on the images inside this file to link to the online resources. (You may need to adjust your browser settings to allow the links to work, or open it in iBooks, or save it to your desktop and open it with Acrobat Reader.)

(Note: For those interested in the calculations for the precise dating of the first Easter, here is the link to the paper Dr. Ken Petzinger shared with our Personal Discipleship class.)

Truth is not relative. Truth is not—as Ogden Nash so eloquently wrote—that “people believe what they believe they believe.” Truth is not dogma. It is not—as Ravi Zacharias argues—logically inconsistent, empirically inadequate, or experientially irrelevant. Truth is incredibly important. Truth is the reason Jesus Christ was born and came into the world.

“In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.”
John 18:37c (NIV84)

Okay, okay…Why spend time studying ‘truth’? People who harp on ‘truth’ make me nervous (and sometimes nauseous). Sometimes dangerous ideologies are launched on malformed or manipulative notions of truth. Got it. But objective truth is the proper basis for personal discipleship. Without objective truth, the door is open to wield the Bible as a weapon, perverting the very purpose of Divine revelation. Without objective truth one can hold up the Bible and say with a clear conscience, “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it!” (New Testament scholar Daniel Wallace calls this attitude “bumper sticker theology.”) Among many other problems, that approach has a glaring flaw—an inherent internal focus. In other words, “that settles it (for me).”

Those who ascribe to a “that settles it (for me)” approach to the Bible tend to miss the beauty that comes from understanding how well it can withstand objective, historical, logical, philosophical, and (yes) scientific scrutiny. It takes a great deal of effort to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12), but the juice is worth the squeeze.

We don’t tell people what to think on Veracity, but we’re not afraid to share opinions. Rather than sticking our heads in the sand and ignoring challenges to the Bible and the Christian faith, why not take a hard look at these challenges and study the appropriate responses? Could it be that the reason some Christians are unwilling to address atheistic or skeptical objections is that, deep down, they fear the answers might be inadequate? Why upset the applecart when it is settled (for me)? Could it be laziness or complacency?

With objective truth as the basis for personal discipleship, our studies can become rich and full of awesome discoveries. Without it we’re apt to flounder, or even end up spiritually bankrupt. Okay, enough of my testimony.

“The gospel of Jesus Christ is beautiful and true, yet oftentimes one will ask, “How can it be true that there is only one way?” Odd, isn’t it, that we don’t ask the same questions of the laws of nature or of any assertion that lays claim to truth. We are discomfited by the fact that truth, by definition, is exclusive. That is what truth claims are at their core. To make an assertion is to deny its opposite. Rather than complain that there is only one way, shouldn’t we be delighted that there is one way?”
Ravi Zacharias, Think Again – Deep Questions, 28 August 2014

In addition to J. Warner Wallace’s excellent video on The Case For Truth, there are two essays I would recommend for anyone interested in personal discipleship. The first is a brief blog post by Ravi Zacharias entitled “Deep Questions.” The second is a paper delivered by J.P. Moreland at the Evangelical Theological Society, November 18, 2004. Click on the images below to read these essays.

Ravi-Zacharias: Truth

J. P. Moreland: Truth

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