Sunday, August 16, 2009

My Pledge

I will do anything and everything within my power to explain, defend, and apply the Christian worldview before unbelievers, God helping me. Take me up on it, please.

19 comments:

Tone said...

I'm an unbeliever, although I stopped believing for bad reasons there are two things which have keep me from looking back at Christianity. 1. The apparent cruelty of sections of the OT law, even if not applicable today. 2. And more seriously for me how Christianity can square it's ideas of personal moral responsibility, justice and moral choice with the existence of a sovereign God; i.e. if God created you as you are and maintains your very existence each moment then how can you be responsible for and punished for what you do. Ultimately musn't God have decided it was going to happen? I've really stuggled with this and most of the answers I've been given seem to be based on wordplay rather than dealing with the actual issue. I'd appreciate any pointers on where to look or any books that might be useful. I haven't believed for a few years (and have read most of the 'new atheists') but it still won't go away. Kind regards, Tone

Tom Wanchick said...

Okay. If you had only five minutes to spend with a non-Christian and they asked why you believe Christianity is true, what would you say?

Doug Groothuis said...

I'd ask for an hour.

If only five minutes, I'd have to interpret the situation and the person. I'd probably say, "Why aren't you a Christian?" and go from there. I have so many reasons, I need to find a solid point of contact.

Doug Groothuis said...

Tone:

A. There are a variety of responses to the OT situation. I addressed some in a post on the new atheism at TrueU some time ago, but do not have that available to me now. The best responses will be by OT scholars, such as Richard Hess at Denver Seminary. He is writing a chapter for my next book on this topic. I would contact him: Rick.Hess@denverseminary.edu

The short answer is that (a) God was dealing with a rather barbaric culture and didn't fix everything at once. He toned things down (such as the rules for slavery and women, which were far more humane than anyting surrounding Israel) and (b) promised the better things were to come in the New Covenant. Jesus spoke of some aspect of the OT situation as temporary (see Matthew 19:1-2; see also Hebrews).(c) Moreoer, the OT folks were warned of the several penalities in the terms of the covenant--Deuteronomy 8, 28, etc.

B. Only a strongly theistic worldview can make sense of human moral responsibility. Naturalism cannot, since all is impersonal chance and natural law. We are then either cogs or chance ripples in an uncaring and morally unaccountable universe. You cannot find a metaphysic for moral responsibility there. Nor can you find it in pantheism, which denies are contingent creaturehood and the ontological difference between good and evil.

The Bible teaches that nothing in the world is left to chance, that God is sovereign. However, God's providential arrangements do not violate our own agency. God does not force people to do what they do not want to do. We act according to our nature. Philosophically, this is called compatiblism and it has a long history of defenders. It means that agency is compatible with determination. This is the Calvinist view, which I take to be biblical. See The Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter three.

However, there are Christians who think that God does not really have total sovereignty; instead he leaves some things up to the free will of creatures. The problem with this is that the Bible says that we are corrupted by sin--by nature and by choice. So, God needs to intervene in a particular way. But that takes no one off the hook. "God now commands everyone everywhere to repent" (Acts 17:31). We are accountable before God for our knowledge of him and our conscience (Romans 1-2).

As creatures wanting to be automous of God, we may not like the idea of God's authority over us and his governance of all things, but that does not remove those realities.

The call goes out to all people: "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand."

Reading: On OT problems, Gleason Archer, Encylopedia of Biblical Difficulties. Paul Copan's recent article in Philosophia Christi on the moral chapter of the God of the OT. (You'll have to look that up.)

On God's sovereignty and human responsibility: DA Carson, How Long, O Lord.

I hope this helps.

Doug Groothuis said...

Tone:

For an excellent introduction to Christianity written by a seasoned pastor and writer, see John Stott, Why I am a Christian.

Tone said...

Thank you! I've just ordered Carson's, Gleason's and Stott's books and found Copan's article. Thanks for taking the time to reply, I'll follow up on the other points as well. The denial of God's sovereignty in some form is usually the reply I've had to the second point and it's caused me difficulties as that doesn't appear to fit the Biblical teaching, I'll certainly try to find more on what you've said.

Doug Groothuis said...

Tone:

This is heartening to hear. Please stay in touch. You can also email me through the blog if you'd like.

Best,
DG

Tom Wanchick said...

Let's say you get your hour. The non-believer requests that you present an argument God's existence. You sense they're sincerely curious and open to the truth. What argument would you present (if any)?

I'm a believer, I'm just curious how you'd respond.

Mike said...

I would place emphasis on the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, and the various arguments for God's existence (moral, design, cosmological, transcendent). A good primer on all this is Doug Powell's book on Christian Aplogetics.

Personally, I've found theology a complete dead end as far as introducing Christianity to non-believers. Theology is way too subjective, even among Christians.


So, basically it comes down to this:

- The God of Jesus Christ is real, and gives eternal life (the historical and philosophical arguments)

- Now live accordingly (theology)

Paul said...

Tone:
I will pray for you and I MEAN IT! Your inquiries are genuine and deserve answers.

Tim said...

Tom,

I've had a few experiences like this recently, several by email with people I've never met in person, and one face-to-face. In neither case were the questions and issues settled in a single conversation; there is just too much ground to cover, and what sticks for one person may be no problem for another. So there's no silver bullet.

In order at least to try to be more helpful, I’m going to presume on Doug’s goodwill and give a somewhat longer reply than one might ordinarily put in a comment box. There are also some useful sources and discussions here and here.

I would strongly advocate taking a straight-up historical approach along the lines laid down by Eusebius in his Demonstration of the Gospel, book 3, chapters 4-6. This approach will bring matters to a head very quickly, as your interlocutor will probably object at one or more of the following points:

1. Deep historical skepticism and chronological snobbery.

"We cannot trust the NT documents as historical records in any respect; nobody knows who wrote them, they were (surely?) written after the eyewitnesses were dead, they're mythical reworkings of OT (or pagan, or Homeric) themes, and people were very gullible in those days and would believe just about anything."

These people need a serious dose of realistic skepticism, along the lines of C. S. Lewis's essay "Modern Theology and Biblical Criticsm," with that priceless line--

I do not wish to reduce the sceptical elements in your minds. I am only suggesting that it need not be reserved exclusively for the New Testament and the Creeds. Try doubting something else.

Properly applied, that advice has the potential, by sowing doubts about the grounds of their doubts, to undo the mischief done by selective skepticism.

More concretely, they need to be shown how the internal evidence of the documents themselves and the external evidence from the testimony and quotations of the apostolic fathers and the earliest apologists combine to make a powerful case for the authenticity and genuineness of the gospels. Some useful sources here include Edmund Bennett, The Four Gospels from a Lawyer’s Standpoint (1899) (for a brief very readable presentation of internal evidence), E. M. Blaiklock,The Compact Handbook of New Testament Life (1979), Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (2008), and Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (2006).

[... to be continued ...]

Tim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tim said...

[... continued from above ...]

2. Ideological snobbery and arguments from silence.

"The NT documents are pretty clearly intended to be taken straightforwardly and were perhaps written by people in a position to know, but because the authors were Christians, we cannot trust them to give us an historically accurate picture of Jesus or of the early church. Why don't more non-Christians write about the resurrection of Jesus?"

This complaint is rarely supported by any attempted argument against the integrity of the New Testament authors, but it is often accompanied by a list of classical authors who, in the objector's mind, should have talked about the resurrection -- or about Christianity. It is often wedded to the radical position that the Testimonium Flavianum (Antiquities 18.63 ff) was a wholesale Christian forgery, a position now rejected by virtually all Josephus scholars, though it remains popular on the internet.

Rationally speaking, this complaint requires a multi-sided response. One needs (a) to point out that there has been no argument given from the premise, "The authors were Christians," to the conclusion, "We cannot trust them to give us tolerably accurate historical information," (b) to point out that Christianity was, from the standpoint of the Roman Empire in the first century, a splinter Jewish sect and therefore not worthy of particular notice, (c) to illustrate some of the numerous points at which, nevertheless, the NT narratives make contact with secular history, archaeology, etc., and (d) to show the weakness of the argument from silence by illustrations from secular history.

For better or worse, this approach requires some knowledge on the part of the apologist beyond the usual preparation or discussion in most of our contemporary books on the subject. It also requires some intelligence and integrity on the part of the objector, who must (a) come to recognize the folly of demanding non-Christian attestation for the resurrection when anyone who did so attest it would, almost necessarily, have become a Christian and (b) develop some understanding of the history of the secular history of the first century and the position of Christianity in that milieu.

A good place to start would be William Paley, A View of the Evidences of Christianity (1879). I can give more specific suggestions for some of the sub-points if anyone is interested.

3. Pure Humean question-begging.

"The NT documents report miracles, and in virtue of that fact they are not credible no matter what their historical affidavits."

This objection requires a straight-up philosophical response. Hume's objection was sufficiently answered within his own lifetime by William Adams, An Essay in Answer to Mr. Hume's Essay, 3rd ed. (1767) and George Campbell, A Dissertation on Miracles, 4th ed. (1807). In recent work, two good sources are Joseph Houston, Reported Miracles: A Critique of Hume (2007) and, for those who have the technical background in Bayesian probability to follow it, John Earman, Hume's Abject Failure (2000).

The God of Bluemongoose said...

If you are referring to my post as a "taunt" I am disappointed. It was a _Curmudgeonly_ jab. Christ gives you thick skin to deal with such. Even then, it wasn't a taunt.

Regardless of whether it was or not, the sincere question stands: The Debunking Christianity arguments need a response. No one has really addressed them and they are proving very effective on deconverting people.

I assume you care about the flock and people leaving it. Why not deal with one of the groups resonsible for many people departing? Was your heart not concerned with the 5 friends of mine that left as a result of DC?

Mistake my tone for a taunt? Fine.
Mistake your reprimanding me as a fine answer to what is leading many sheep astray? Shameful.

Doug Groothuis said...

Well, I don't know what is going on with Bluegoose I didn't post what he said because it seemed to be a taunt. Now he claims it was an honest request. Honestly, I don't know, but I just published his follow up.

But the idea that no one has responded to the Debunking Christianity claims is absurd. They give no new arguments against Christianity and all they bring up has been dealt with in apologetic sources.

Perhaps no one has specifically responded to all their charges on line in relation to their web site. But that is very different than there being no arguments to rebut them.

My book will deal with most all the basic attacks on Christianity, as do the many books now out there.

I, of course, did not think my response to Bluegoose was a substitute for apologetic arguments. I won't be writing an 800 plus page book if I thought that.

Bluegoose gives no biographical information, so I have no idea who he is or if what he says is true. How do we know that Debunking has deconverted anyone? I don't have the evidence for it.

Dr. Polhemus said...

If agency is compatible with determination in a theistic worldview, then they could be compatible in naturalist worldview as well. Could they not? Natural law provides the determination, but we are still agents who act according to our nature.

I don't see why we are "cogs" if natural law is doing the determining, but if God is doing the determining we are responsible. Aren't we responsible either way?

Doug Groothuis said...

Tim:

Bravo. If I ever finish my present book, perhaps we should co-edit a collection of essays on apologetics, ancient, medieval, and modern. I'm best at the later. Not enough is out there on the older material you cite, but it is still so good. I could provide Pascal and more 20th century material. This all assumes copyright allowances, a publisher, etc.!

dad of luke said...

Consider bringing your case against evolution to the likes of PZ Myers and men like him. The big dogs have to be dealt with if you are going to engage in serious apologetics.

Doug Groothuis said...

Well, I see a trend developing to my post. "Unless you debate Person X, you are not credible." So, it becomes a kind of taunt.

I said I'd do whatever I can. This means, given my resources, background, and opportunity, I'll do what I can. It does not mean--nor could it mean for anytone--that I will debate anyone, anywhere on any topic related to Christianity. I have a day job and work extra on top of that. I am writing a huge apologetics book, which requires intense time alone in my study, not out debating everyone.

However, philosophers have debated well-known atheists. I think one debated PZ, perhaps Angus Manuge. You can look that up. Of course, Bill Craig has debated many well-known atheists.