Monday, April 21, 2014

Theism and Personality

If we, as theists, believe that the universe is fundamentally personal in character, it follows that our ultimate understanding will not be in terms of things, which occupy space and may or may not possess certain properties, but of persons, who characteristically do things. Action, not substance, will be our most important category of thought. It is a truth too long neglected by philosophers--J. R. Lucas, Freedom and Grace, p. 111 (as quoted in Nicholas Wolterstorff, Art in Action)

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Evidence for Easter

Millions of Christians celebrate Easter every year, a day commemorating an event that distinguishes Christianity’s founder from all other religious leaders—the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s not about colored eggs or cute bunnies. It’s about one who claims authority over all creation as the living Lord. Is there good reason to believe this? 

In a pluralistic culture, diverse religious ideas are often viewed as merely products of subjective faith. A religion is “true” if it “works,” if it gives a sense of meaning to life and a connection to a community of faith. Matters of objective fact are dismissed in order to avoid controversy and strife. However, Easter makes no sense apart from the reality of a historical event. The Apostle Paul wrote to the early Christians, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (I Corinthians 15:14). 

In a free society every religion is allowed to make its case publicly without fear of censure. All have the constitutional right to practice any religion or none. But this does not answer the question of what faith—if any—one ought to embrace. Easter offers an answer based on the compelling evidence that the story of Jesus coming to earth to redeem his people from their failures is vindicated by his space-time resurrection from the dead. 

No blind leap of faith is required to believe that the resurrection of Jesus is more than a nice religious idea. The Gospel accounts that attest to the resurrection were written by people in a position to hunt down and check out the facts. They were either disciples of Jesus (Matthew and John) or individuals who carefully interviewed those closest to the event they described (Mark and Luke). These accounts were written shortly after the events they narrate; there was insufficient time for such mythological additions as a resurrection. The Apostle Paul, writing sometime in the 50s, spoke of Christ publicly appearing to many people, many of whom were still living at the time he wrote (1 Corinthians 15:1-8). Had there been no resurrection, this kind of statement would have been suicidal, since hostile witness could have refuted Paul’s claim. We have no record of a refutation. 

Moreover, all the New Testament books have been accurately preserved over time. Scholars have access to thousands of ancient Greek manuscripts from which to translate our modern versions of these books. 

The earliest record of the Christian movement (the Book of Acts) reports that the church proclaimed a resurrected Christ as the source of its courage and drive. The first Christians weathered intense persecution for their resurrection-faith; yet they persevered—some even unto death. Had the notion of the resurrection been fabricated, it would have unraveled under the relentless social and political pressures it faced. As former Nixon aide Charles Colson has pointed out in his book Loving God, he and the other White House conspirators could not pull off the Watergate cover-up, despite their unmatched political clout. When the crunch came, the truth was quickly flushed out. The early Christians had no such power to obfuscate or intimidate; but they never recanted. Their resolve is best explained by their knowledge of the resurrection. 

Those hostile to these determined followers of Jesus could have easily refuted the nascent movement by simply exhuming the dead body of Jesus and displaying it as the decisive evidence against any claim to his resurrection. Both the religious and the political authorities of the day had reasons to resent these Christians and to stop their evangelism. But there is no evidence that anything of the kind occurred. The tomb was empty. 

Belief in the resurrection of Jesus is entirely different from the fascination many people have in supposedly supernatural events (of "The X Files" variety) that have no logical support. When Christians observe Easter they stand on the solid ground of history, looking upward with rational hope for a better life in the world to come.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Outline for my Talk at University of Colorado Law School Today



A.    Declaration of Independence: inalienable rights granted by our Creator

B.     The Nuremberg war trials and Nazi “crimes against humanity” (See John Warwick Montgomery, The Law Above the Law)

C.     Martin Luther King and the reform of civil law based on higher, moral law

D.    Questions of jurisprudence: philosophical basis; justification of law; meta-ethics


A.    “The modernist impasse” or the secularization of law in the West (see Phillip E. Johnson, “Nihilism and the End of the Law”)

1.      Law as independent of God: “We’re free of God”

2.      Law as expression of contingent human arrangements only: “Oh God, 
      we’re free”

                  B.  Arthur Leff’s “Unspeakable Ethics, Unnatural Law,” Duke Law Review

1.      Thesis: Authority of law depends on an ultimate Evaluator; without this      
                       Evaluator all law is arbitrary, however it is formulated.

                 2.   This God would have to be personal, moral, and communicative.

                       3.   Moral statements as “performative utterances”

                       4.   The conditions of performative success: authority in a situation

                       5.  The absence of God in the moral sphere: no moral authority

C.     Other non-divine principles for establishing the law

1.      Descriptivism/conventionalism: leaves everything alone; no outside judgment upon established legal systems. Legal positivism.

2.      Personalism: authority in individuals (godlets)—anarchy

3.      Majoritarianism: no basis in a moral principle beyond godlets

4.      Constitutionalism: not infallible, requires interpretation; not exhaustive


A.    All other evaluators fail to perform; morality and law are unjustified, unauthorized.

B.     No one can replace God as the ultimate Evaluator and justification of moral
                        law and civil law (“There is none like unto the LORD”).

                 C.  Nevertheless: evil exists; heroism exists (“Sez who?”).

                 D.  Either God or nihilism (“God help us”)


A.    An argument for the Ultimate Evaluator (by modus tolens)

1.      If there is no God (P), then morality and law lose their foundations and there is no objective good and evil (Q). (Leff and other arguments: Nietzsche, Sartre, Dostoyevsky.) If P, then Q.

2.      There is objective good and evil. Leff: “There is in the world such a thing as evil.” (See Romans 2:14-15 on the law written on the human heart.)

3.      Therefore: it is false that morality and law lose their foundations and there is no objective good or evil. (not-Q)

4.      Therefore: God exists as the Ultimate Evaluator (Leff, illogically, to the contrary). By modus tolens: not-Q; therefore, not-P.

5.      Therefore; nihilism is false.

B.     An argument against atheism, the claim that there is no Ultimate Evaluator

1.      If there is no God (P), then morality and law lose their foundations and there is no objective good and evil (Q). If P, then Q.

2.      There is no God. (Leff: “It looks as if we are all we have.”) (P)

3.      Therefore: morality and law lose their foundations and there is no objective good and evil (nihilism: “God help us”). By modus ponens: P; therefore, Q.

4.      But: Leff: “There is in the world such a thing as evil.” Objective good and evil do exist. (not-Q)

5.      If not-Q; therefore: not-P. By modus tolens

6.      Therefore: God does exist as the Ultimate Evaluator (same conclusion as the previous argument).

7.      Therefore, nihilism is false (same conclusion as the previous argument).

C.     The simplified argument (disjunctive syllogism)

1.      Either God exists (P) or nihilism is true (Q). P or Q.

2.      Nihilism is not true. (not-Q)

3.      Therefore, God exists. (P)

D.    Responses to three objections to God as the basis of morality and law

1.      Making God the ultimate Evaluator makes morality and law arbitrary.

a.       God’s commands are based on God’s character and the nature of the
      world God has created. “I the Lord do not change” (Malachi 3:6).

b.      God’s evaluations and commands are not arbitrary edicts of 
      changeable divine will, but are based on wisdom (Proverbs 8).

c.       Christian perspective: God’s character is demonstrated historically in Jesus Christ (Luke 1:1-4; John 1:1-3; 14-18).

2.      Moral truth can exist objectively apart from God’s existence.

a.       Moral law needs a Law-giver, imperatives, claims upon us, duty.

b.      A godless world coupled with human knowledge of objective moral principles is exceedingly unlikely give an impersonal, chance universe.

3.      Recognizing God as the Evaluator would lead to a dangerous theocracy.

a.       A theological basis for law does not entail a theocracy; consider early 
      American law and jurisprudence.

b.      An unacceptable nihilism seems to be the only other alternative;
      consider the USSR. Law and rights were created by the State alone.


A.    Modernist impasse is not solvable given its own premises: “God help us.”

B.     God as Ultimate Evaluator gives a solid basis for morality and civil law.

C.     Two qualifications to my argument

1.      Not a complete apologetic for Christian theism, although a foundation for personalist theism and some suggestions. Many other arguments available.

2.      Much more is required for a good society than well-rooted, authorized civil law: moral and spiritual renewal and consistency.


A.    Stephen L. Carter, The Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion (New York: Basic Books, 1993). Examines the secularization of law and how it marginalizes religion.

B.     Douglas Groothuis, Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against the Challenges of Postmodernism (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000).  See especially, chapter eight, “Ethics Without Reality, Postmodernist Style,” on postmodernist attempts (particularly by Rorty and Foucault) to establish morality apart from God and objective moral truths.

C.     Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011). See especially, “The Moral Argument for God,” which draws on Arthur Leff’s essay, “Unspeakable Ethics, Unnatural Law.”

D.    Douglas Groothuis, “Thomas Nagel’s ‘Last Word’ on the Metaphysics of Rationality and Morality,” Philosophia Christi, 2nd series, no. 1 (1999):115-122. A critique of one attempt by a notable philosopher to establish objective morality and rationality apart from the existence of God.

E.     Phillip E. Johnson, “Nihilism and the End of the Law,” First Things, March 1993, 19-25. A reflection on Leff’s dilemma and how it relates to contemporary debates about civil law in America.

F.      Arthur Leff, “Unspeakable Ethics, Unnatural Law,” Duke Law Journal, 1979, no. 6 (December):1229-1246. A pivotal and penetrating analysis.

G.    John Warwick Montgomery, The Law Above the Law (Minneapolis, MN: Betheny Publishers, 1975). Considers the relationship between civil law and theology.

H.    J. P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1987). See especially, chapter four, “God and the Meaning of Life,” for a defense of the claim that the existence of God is required for objective morality and existential meaning.


Friday, April 04, 2014

Film Review: "God's not Dead"

This film weaves several plots around the main story of a philosophy student who is challenged by an atheist philosophy professor to give arguments for God's existence. The young man takes the challenge, which exacts a cost on him, including the loss of his long-term girl friend. Other subplots relate to people considering Christian commitment in one way or another. (There is spoiler alert. I'll let you see how the movie resolves.)

The best actor is the atheist professor. However, he does not act much like a professor, since he is overly arrogant and gives few arguments for atheism. The student ends up studying apologetics and gives some decent arguments for God, including the argument from the Big Bang and biology. I could quibble, but I won't. How many movies list "apologetics research" in the credits? Rice Brooks is listed. I had not heard of him before, but he has written a book called God is not Dead. (I kept waiting for the student to check out my book, Christian Apologetics, in his research, but he did not. I will get over it.)

The rest of the acting is fair to poor and the film is overly cheesy in parts. Some of the characters are pretty thin and predictable. Nevertheless, it deals with ultimate matters with some wisdom, so it is not a bad film for both believers and unbelievers.

Let this encourage us to enter the secular world with the Christian message through films, books, articles, poems, plays, and in ever other way. Time is short; eternity long; our task is great.

I am thankful that my prediction that the movie would contain no apologetics was false!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Final Freedom

Inspired by Viktor Frankl:
The first and final freedom is how you, at the innermost core of your being, respond to ineluctable suffering. That is the measure of your character, formed in the crucible. Looking back on your life, how would you have wanted to live: in apathy in the face of crushing events or in responsible activity in the face of crushing events?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Help for Becky Groothuis

Folks: If you missed it, here is the fund created by a friend to help us with Becky's medical and housing expenses. We are looking for a full-time facility for her and hope to place her there as soon as we can. 

That will be far better than what we could do at home. We are thankful to all those who have given so far. It makes this nightmare more livable.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Death of Fred Phelps

Fred Phelps is dead. How should a good person respond to his demise?

The death of any creature made in the image and likeness of God (all of we humans) is a lamentable thing. Sin, long ago, brought human death into God's good world. The consequences are ubiquitous, touch every person every day their entire lives. But death is the exclamation point of sin, its natural result. 

Everyone sins, but, despite the dad commonalities of sin (lust, greed, cruelty, perversity, murder, rape, and more), we each sin in our own way. Some of these affronts to God's holy and perfect character are public. Some are not. One Day, all will be known. The sins of Fred Phelps were egregious and well known: twisting Scripture, hating wrongly, judging wrongly, and more. He was the poster boy for the press's desire to find aberrant expressions of Christianity. He was in an infinitesimal fraction of Christians in his approach to life. In nearly thirty-eight years of Christian life, I have never met anyone who heralded the hatred of men on his terms.

No, God does not hate homosexuals. No, we cannot claim that an American soldiers death is God's revenge against America. Yes, Fred Phelps was a despicable human being. Yet a human being he was, and is. His sins were broadcast across the globe and his false church became a byword, a symbol of bigotry and religious extremism.

Fred Phelps is in the hands of a just and loving God--as we all are. Given his recent death, he is also in the thoughts of we creatures under the sun and awaiting the coming of the Son of Man. Only then, will all the secrets of men and the judgments of God will be perfectly known. The wisest way of pondering the death of this sad and bad man is not to ridicule him, not to jest at his and his family expense, and certainly not to gloat. "Ask not for whom the bell tolls, for the bell tolls for thee."

We, too, shall die. Most of us will die without media attention. But we will not die without God's attention. He is the ultimate audience, the audience of One. May we all search our own conscience for cruelty, perversity, and the false handling of the Holy Bible, remember that but One lived a holy and perfect life; and he alone is the One who offers hope based on the realities of his life, death, resurrection, ascension, session, Second Coming, and eternal reign.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

So Far

The far-way one,
Gone, not quite here,
Now, not quite now.
to be taken away from being
far away.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014