Category Archives: Apologetics

Apologetics: Norman Geisler

Norman Geisler.

Evangelical apologist Norman Geisler died today, at the age of 86. The author of over a hundred books on Christian apologetics, theology, and philosophy, Norman Geisler has left a dramatic footprint upon the evangelical Christian world.  Dr. Geisler was critically instrumental in founding two evangelical seminaries, Veritas International Seminary and Southern Evangelical Seminary, and taught classes at other well-known evangelical institutions, including Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Dallas Theological Seminary. His influence has been felt all over American evangelicalism, ranging from preachers like Andy Stanley to popular apologists like Lee Strobel and Frank Turek.

As the Veracity blog has been principally focused on apologetics, we would be remiss not to recall Dr. Geisler’s contributions. According to his testimony, Dr. Geisler had grown up in a mostly ex-Roman Catholic home, stemming from his father’s bitterness against the local Roman Catholic priest. Norman Geisler’s father had approached the priest, about marrying a Lutheran woman, asking the priest to officiate the marriage. The priest responded that this was against the rules of the church, but that he would gladly accept a bribe of $500, to ignore the rules. Norman Geisler’s father left the church with disgust.

As a young kid, Norman Geisler did not know the difference between Jesus and Santa Claus. At age 9, a persistent local Bible church shared the Gospel with this young boy, by taking him to church every Sunday, but he consistently and stubbornly refused to receive Christ, until he finally made a confession of faith, eight years later, at the age of 17.  His interest in apologetics was born from subsequent years of being unable to answer questions posed to him, by those he conversed with, when doing door-to-door evangelism, doing jail ministry, and serving in rescue missions.

As a young man, despite not being able to read during most of his years in high school, Norman Geisler knew that either he had to get some answers to these questions, or else, he should stop witnessing. So, he decided to go and find some answers.

Amazingly, after years of getting a theological education, including getting a doctorate in philosophy, focusing on the thought of Thomas Aquinas, Dr. Geisler rose as a leader in the evangelical Christian movement of the 1960s and 1970s, serving as one of the original authors of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. He also help to lead the burgeoning Evangelical Theological Society, the primary intellectual and scholarly think-tank for American evangelicalism, until departing the society in 2003, over what he saw as theological drift in the society.

I first encountered Norman Geisler upon thumbing through his When Skeptics Ask: A Handbook on Christian Evidences, that helped me to answer some of the tougher questions fielded to me, when I worked in youth ministry. I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Geisler at the National Conference on Christian Apologetics, about five years ago. There was twinkle in his eye and a passion in his energy to communicate the Gospel with others, by clearing away intellectual difficulties, that might be spiritual roadblocks for skeptics and seekers. It was easy for me see how Dr. Geisler was able to winsomely make the sometimes intimidating world of Christian apologetics accessible to youth ministry leaders, hard-working evangelists, and normal, everyday people, who have questions about faith in God.

Dr. Geisler’s unbridled passion for truth was encouraging, but it could also get him into trouble, and cause deep seated frustration with other fellow Christian apologists and theologians. Dr. Geisler, who excelled as a classical or philosophical apologist, was not always as proficient in other realms, such as evidentialist apologetics, presuppositionalist apologetics, or New Testament studies.

Dr. Geisler at times sought to defend certain beleaguered, troubled Christian leaders, whom he should have never defended. At other times, he would drive verbal and written attacks against other Christian scholars, that were sadly unwarranted, undeservingly tarnishing their reputations. There were moments where reading Norman Geisler was like feeling a sense of confident relief, “Yes, there are answers!” But there have been other times in reading Dr. Geisler, where I wanted to either scream or cringe. Alas, sometimes, an interest in defending the truth can lead even the best of Christians to become needlessly defensive, missing opportunities for learned engagement with more nuanced and accurate expressions of truth. I have done the same myself, over the years.

But in recalling Dr. Geisler’s years of faithful service for the cause of Christ, it would not be fitting to focus on particular deficiencies of certain apologetic blunders, here and there. Rather, it would be better to reflect on the greater picture of Dr. Geisler’s remarkable legacy, namely his desire to uphold the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We should consider the ways that God used this man, whom a local Bible church at one point probably thought of as being an “unreachable” teenager. Nevertheless, God saw to it to empower Norman Geisler to help several generations of believers and non-believers, to gain a greater sense of confidence in the tremendous and awesome glory of God, through the power of His Word.

Norman Geisler’s most popular, and perhaps best book, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be Atheist, a popular outline to his classical/philosophical approach to apologetics, has been on my reading list for a few years now. I continually encounter other Christians who have been strengthened in their faith by this book, and other similar works by him. My fellow co-blogger, John Paine, did a three-part blog series (#1, #2, and #3) on “How We Got the Bible,” a few years ago, based largely on another book co-authored by Dr. Geisler, From God To Us Revised and Expanded: How We Got Our Bible.

In a time when skepticism and unbelief are growing more than ever, in our secular world, it is encouraging to know that there have been Christians, such as Norman Geisler, who have sought passionately and intelligently to reach out to others with the Good News of Eternal Life, through Jesus Christ. I am grateful that God has used Norman Geisler to help stir that same passion within me.

 


Andy Stanley and Jeff Durbin: An “Unbelievable” Discussion About Apologetics

Veracity readers will know that I have posted several times about Andy Stanley, pastor of one of the largest churches in America. Last month, my wife and I attended the Buckhead branch of Andy Stanley’s church in Atlanta, Georgia. Though pastor Stanley was not preaching that week, it was eye-opening to experience how Stanley’s NorthPoint community network of churches function, to reach a large city like Atlanta.

Andy Stanley has become rather “infamous” for coining the phrase that Christians should “unhitch” their faith from the Old Testament, a theme present in his bestselling book Irresistible. Despite what one might think of this controversy, Andy Stanley is more fundamentally known as a preacher who engages in what is called evidentialist apologetics, in an attempt to reach the non-believer with the Gospel. Evidentialist apologetics is a way of establishing common ground with a skeptical non-believer, seeking to share the Truth of Christ, by making an appeal to scientific and historical evidences that support the validity of the Christian faith. Some good examples of Christian apologists who make use of evidentialist apologetics include J. Warner Wallace, Frank Turek, Michael Licona, and the most well-known of them all, William Lane Craig.

In Andy Stanley’s particular approach, Andy Stanley says we should not start with the Bible, but rather start with the Resurrection of Jesus. We build our case for Christ by making a series of arguments in sequence, beginning with the reality of Christ’s resurrection, which leads to establishing the divine authority of Jesus, which then leads to the authority of the Bible, and its salvation message. The simplest way to put it is that it is the event of the Resurrection that gives us the text of the Bible, as we have it today, and not the other way around.

So, I was really excited to learn that Justin Brierley, of the British apologetics podcast, Unbelievable?, was able to get Andy Stanley together with presuppositionalist apologist Jeff Durbin, in order to discuss the nature of apologetics. In contrast with evidentialist apologetics, presuppositional apologetics takes a different approach, whereby you begin with the self-attestation of the truthfulness of Scripture first, and only then speak of the various doctrinal claims of the Christian faith, including Christ’s resurrection. Jeff Durbin himself is a pastor in Phoenix, Arizona, who has been mentored by perhaps the most influential presuppositional apologist, of a Calvinist persuasion, of our day, James White, of Alpha Omega Ministries, also headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona. Durbin, a popular YouTube Reformed apologist, has the unique distinction of being cast in several martial arts movies.

While I do believe that presuppositionalist apologetics does have its place, I am more of an evidentialist. Perhaps that is because that is how God reached me with the Gospel. I tend to differ with Durbin’s brand of apologetics, as presuppositionalist apologetics often begs the question: How do you build a case for Jesus, based on the Bible, when the non-believer does not believe the Bible to be trustworthy in the first place?

Sure, you could begin an evangelistic discussion by asking your listener to pretend that the Bible is reliable and true. But there is a big gap between pretending to believe the Bible, versus actually believing the evidence that exists, to support the authenticity of its message.

Even Christians often come to the Bible with their own negative judgments. An evidentialist approach seeks to build a bridge, that can help the skeptic or puzzled Christian to rethink their own reason for looking down at the Bible, or certain parts of the Bible. A presuppositional approach works great, if the person shares the same presuppositions. But a purely presuppositional approach tends to lead people to talk right past one another. In the worst cases, the presuppositional approach blows up bridges instead of building bridges, in our evangelistic or discipleship conversations.

A more troublesome question for presuppositional apologetics is this: Why start with the Bible? Why not the Book of Mormon? Or the Koran? Or the Bhagavad Gita?

Even if you start with the Bible, as opposed to starting with the evidence for the Resurrection, you still have to figure out which systematic view of the Bible you plan to go with: A Calvinist view? An Arminian view? A dispensationalist view? A charismatic view? Which one?

Andy Stanley’s particular approach does have some problems, as I have discussed before, so it is great to have someone like a Jeff Durbin, with whom I still have more disagreements with, on the other side of the debate, to challenge him. In the end, it is quite clear that there is no “one size fits all” approach to Christian apologetics that works for everyone. The discussion between Stanley and Durbin is great way to figure out where you stand, with respect to how you defend your faith, when engaging a skeptical non-believer. A riveting 90-minutes. This really is an amazing discussion!!


Why the New Testament Did Not Give Us Christianity (In 90 Seconds)

The New Testament did not give us the Resurrection; the Resurrection gave us the New Testament. Some Christians strangely think this is controversial. But this is spot on. Thanks, Frank Turek. It all comes down to the Risen Jesus.

Praise the Lord! HE IS RISEN INDEED!!


Reviewing Patterns of Evidence: The Moses Controversy Movie

This past week, I went to see Timothy Mahoney’s new film, Patterns of Evidence: The Moses Controversy. Following the relative success of Mahoney’s first film on the Exodus, Mahoney has been able to raise enough funds to put out this second movie, that seeks to defend the idea that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible.

On the good side, Mahoney demonstrates that there is a certain critical bias among mainstream scholars, that tends to pooh-pooh the idea, that a man named Moses really had that much do with the the transmission of Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy, down through history. A lot of Christians are surprisingly ignorant of the fact that doubting the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, has been pretty much the standard teaching in nearly all institutions of higher learning in the United States, for decades. So, Mahoney gets brownie points for urging Christians to engage more with critical scholarship. If you send your kid off to college, allow them to watch TV, or allow them to surf the Internet, it behooves the Christian to become aware of the challenges that confront a young person’s faith.

But the down side of the movie is that Mahoney leans heavily on the contrarian, and highly disputed theories, of Egyptologist David Rohl, to make Mahoney’s case that God essentially inspired the human alphabet system, that allowed Moses to write the Torah. The movie was basically a 2-hour slog, through a rather complicated apologetic argument, to try to defend Moses’ involvement in writing the first part of the Bible. Even Gary Bates and Lita Cosner, Young Earth Creationist apologists for Creation.com, found Mahoney’s alphabetic writing system proposal as “both unnecessary and unsupported by Scripture itself.

Why Mahoney leans so heavily on David Rohl, the latter who admits that he is an agnostic, is beyond me. In contrast, Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen, an outspoken evangelical Christian, and highly respected by many of his agnostic and atheistic peers, dismisses David Rohl’s speculation as pretty much total nonsense. Kitchen, author of the exhaustively learned On the Reliability of the Old Testament, champions the so-called “late date theory” of the Exodus, that the film maker Mahoney casually dismisses twice in the movie, as having “no evidence” to support it. Rohl makes some legitimate criticisms of “late date theory” proponents, but his alternative solution fails to convince most scholars, believer and non-believer alike. I will spare you the details and simply refer the Veracity reader to ‘s fair and balanced review of The Moses Controversy.

I do not mean to pile onto Tim Mahoney, as he seems like a really likable, sincere guy, and I do commend him for addressing the topic. I think that his experience with doubt, and his journey in trying to resolve such doubt, should be treated with respect and sensitivity. Mahoney plans to put out another movie, addressing the apologetics of the Red Sea crossing. Let us hope that this next movie will be an improvement over The Moses Controversy.

Despite its shortcomings, I am very glad and thankful Tim Mahoney has put out a thought-provoking film, that will hopefully spur thoughtful Christians to actively engage the issues behind The Moses Controversy. Nevertheless, I am concerned that an uncritical examination of Mahoney’s claims will only confuse Christians, when they actually encounter peer-reviewed scholarship on this topic, making it harder to defend the faith before an unbelieving world.


Does Dark Matter … Really Matter?

Did you know that astrophysicists have found the “missing baryons?”  Why would a Christian care about such a discovery?

 

As Hugh Ross, an astrophysicist and president of Reasons to Believe, put it, this discovery helps to solve the mystery of “dark matter,” supporting the modern Big Bang theory, which points to a beginning of the universe. When the Big Bang theory was first developed in the mid-20th century, a problem immediately became apparent, as the theory predicted that there should be a great mass of matter (or energy) existing between galaxies, making up to about 70% or so of the universe. The problem was that researchers could never see it; hence, roughly speaking, the term, “dark matter.”

In 2017, two independent teams of researchers were able to develop a method whereby they could detect the existence of the “missing baryons.” For those Christians who believe that the Bible affirms, or is at least not in conflict with, the idea of an ancient universe, of millions of years, this discovery appears to point towards the existence of so-called “dark matter,” helping to solve a persistent riddle, as to what was missing in the Bang Bang cosmological model. There is still a lot more to learn about so-called “dark matter,” and neither this discovery, nor the Big Bang theory necessarily “prove” the Bible. But for Christians who hold to an Old Earth Creationist interpretation of the Bible, like astrophysicist Hugh Ross, this discovery is yet another piece of evidence in favor of the truthfulness of the Christian faith.

Ironically, many Young Earth Creationists have been fighting against the notion of dark matter for decades. Why? Because if dark matter really exists, it would help to bolster the Big Bang theory, and thereby undercut their interpretation of the Bible, namely that the earth and universe is only about 6,000 years old, contrary to the consensus of modern science. Now, there are at least some Young Earth Creationists, such as Danny Faulkner at Answers in Genesis, who are saying that the question of dark matter is really irrelevant, and that Young Earth Creationists, like astronomer Faulkner, should embrace the existence of dark matter in their alternative proposals. This is quite a concession.

But for those who believe that the evidence supporting the modern scientific consensus for the Big Bang is, at least, in some sense, consistent with what the Bible teaches, namely, that the universe had a beginning (“In the beginning”…. see Genesis 1:1), dark matter is not a problem at all. For if the universe had a beginning, it stands to reason that you will also have a Beginner!

Now, with a God who works miracles, a Young Earth Creation is still possible. Many of my dear Christian friends are Young Earth Creationists, and they have several thoughtful reasons for holding to their position. But the story of dark matter raises a good question: As a Christian, what is easier to defend when talking with a non-believer? The idea that science coheres with the Bible, or that science is in conflict with the Bible?


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