Tag Archives: J. Warner Wallace

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!!

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

The Case for Truth

As you might imagine, truth is a very important topic on a blog named Veracity. Veracity is a one-word description of the Bible. The Bible is true. Most people really have no idea how true. Unfortunately, some believe that it is true because they feel it is true. Others hope that it is true without ever really knowing how true it really is. Agnostics doubt that it is true. Skeptics believe it is untrue.

So how important is it that your faith be based on truth? It sounds like a silly question, but it has profound personal implications. When you engage others about your faith, do you say things like, “This happened to me,” or ” I feel that…”? Unfortunately, these type of statements can point to a subjective faith. But Christianity is much truer than that.

Veracity is also a one-word description for Jesus Christ, taken from his own words:

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
John 14:6

So, ultimately, truth is a person. Got it. Plain and simple. But is it an objective truth?

I’m currently preparing to teach a class on personal discipleship, which we define here at Veracity as “the process in which a believer or seeker takes personal responsibility for investigating the claims and content of the Bible.” It is personal and inherently objective. And it should be.

The class will be full of mature Christians. Many of these folks have spent a lifetime studying the Bible, and can offer encouragement to anyone who wants to ask questions. They have encouraged me. I’m hoping to give back by delving a little more deeply and father off the sacred page than most are accustomed to exploring. It will require an open mind that thirsts for the truth. No dogma, no “This is the way I’ve always thought it to be,” and no fear of what we might discover. If successful, some may find a more intimate appreciation of the Bible and the veracity of their faith. But it requires an honest assessment of our biases (we all have them), and an open and objective mind.

Anyway, I spend hours and hours looking at videos, trying to find just the right ones that will fit within the class schedule and leave time for discussion. There’s a ton of candidate material to share from brilliant apologists like Ravi Zacharias and John Lennox. There are studied academics like Daniel Wallace, Darrell Bock and Craig Evans. Theologians and philosophers like William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantinga. Seminarians like Michael Kruger, Norman Geisler and Gary Habermas. Pastors and teachers like Dick Woodward, Tim Keller and Andy Stanley. Scientists like Hugh Ross and Francis Collins. And a retired cop.

J. Warner Wallace

J. Warner Wallace

J. Warner Wallace

A retired cop?! Yup. J. Warner Wallace was a keynote speaker at the 2014 National Conference on Christian Apologetics. When my friends and I were looking at the conference syllabus, we had heard of his ministry but it sounded pretty much like a shtick to us—“A cold-case homicide detective looks at the Resurrection.” But we were blown away at his sessions. He is likely one of the most gifted rhetoricians you will ever hear.  There’s nothing wrong with good rhetoric—St. Augustine of Hippo was a professor of rhetoric and one of the most influential thinkers in the early Christian church. Martin Luther King, Jr. successfully persuaded the majority of Americans that racism is wrong and that it was time for the country to move in a more just direction. We need good rhetoric.

By way of background, Jim Wallace had a storied career as a homicide investigator in Torrance, California. Right before he spoke at the Charlotte conference, his last case was chronicled on the TV news program NBC Dateline. (Four of his cases have been featured on Dateline—he never lost a single case in his career as a cold-case homicide detective.) It was the oldest homicide cold case ever brought to trial in the United States, and the defendant’s lawyer was none other than Robert Shapiro, the famous Hollywood attorney from the O.J. Simpson case. It was Shapiro’s last court case. You can watch the NBC Dateline video to see what happened.

I will show some of his remarkably persuasive and compelling videos during the upcoming personal discipleship course but want to put this one out to Veracity readers. The truth matters—if we’re not after the truth, what’s the point in studying the Bible?

Podcasts for the Thinking Christian

Plumb LineJohn’ s recent post on William Lane Craig’s Defender Series of podcasts brought to mind that I should update my list of recommended podcasts for the thinking Christian (here is an earlier list John and I have discussed).  I do not have the time to read books as much as I would like, but the marvel of MP3 players is that I can download audio files and listen to them while I work in the yard or drive to and from work.

John’s suggestion of William Lane Craig as the “graduate school” for the next step following after Dick Woodward’s Mini Bible College is very appropriate. Dick was an amazing teacher who continues to impact the world through his unique ability to “put things on the bottom shelf” for people by exploring the basic contours of the Bible. Dr. Craig then makes it more in-depth in terms of helping you grasp and develop your own understanding of God (theology) founded on Scripture and then applied in terms of being able to offer a rational defense of the Christian faith (apologetics).

But just as there are fine and different academic graduate schools out there, there are different “graduate school” approaches to theology and apologetics. For example, Dr. Craig is probably one of the leading Christian apologists alive today, such that atheist Richard Dawkins awkwardly still refuses to debate him. But Dr. Craig is known for his “Middle Knowledge” approach to the issue of God’s sovereignty vs. free will. He is also known for his classical/evidentialist approach to apologetics.  Without digging too much into those things right now, let me just say that not everybody is totally with Dr. Craig on these issues. But, PLEASE, do not let that dissuade you from digging into William Lane Craig! He is awesome! It is just important to know that there are other approaches that Christians take to these issues. You might want to check out some of the other podcast resources available to get a flavor of what is out there. So here we go!

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