Tag Archives: apologetics

I, Crucifix

Icrucifix

I’ve loved Leonard E. Read’s I, Pencil since the first time I read it. I’ve been struck recently that the crucifixion of Jesus was much more complicated to orchestrate than a simple pencil. These words from Peter, in Acts, have been bouncing around in my head (along with John calling Jesus the “lamb slain before the creation of the world” in Revelation.

“This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” — Acts 2:23

Some of the below either borrows, or quotes, I, Pencil. Which you should read for this to make as much sense as possible (though it should work without that). 


I am the crucifix. Those two wooden planks, fixed together in the shape of the letter t, a symbol familiar to boys and girls and adults throughout the world. A symbol of hope. Affixed to hospitals, churches, and flags. Carried into battle, marking the resting place of the fallen. I am the world most recognised, most powerful, most confused, brand.

I am simultaneously wondrous, and cursed, celebrated and condemned, wisdom and foolishness, power and weakness, honour and humiliation, love and loathing, an instrument of justice and of mercy. I am both physical, and symbolic. I was made to bring darkness and death, but now represent light and life. I do these things, and more. I am taken up in service of many causes, and cause many acts of service.

I am where the triune God, who created the world wrote his signature on the earth, in blood. I am the canvas for a divine masterpiece where His image was held up, writ large, for all to see.

I am the scene of the culmination of his carefully orchestrated plans for his world.

I am so significant that the books written about me could fill a library, and the pieces of me held in churches around the world as relics could fill a ship. Yet nobody knows what tree became me.

You may wonder why I should write a genealogy. Well, to begin with, my story has transformed the history of the world. And yet, I am a mystery, more than a pencil, a sunset, a flash of lightning, or even the cosmos itself. Sadly, I am taken for granted, as if I were a mere incident, and without background. This supercilious attitude relegates me to the level of the commonplace. This is a species of the grievous error in which mankind cannot too long persist without peril. For the wise G.K Chesterton observed, “We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders.”

I, Crucifix, simple though I appear to be, merit your wonder and awe, a claim I shall attempt to prove. In fact, if you can understand me—no, that’s too much to ask of anyone — if you can become aware of the miraculousness which I symbolize, you can help save the freedom mankind is so unhappily losing. I have a profound lesson to teach. And I can teach this lesson better than can an automobile, or an airplane, or a mechanical dishwasher, or even a pencil, because—well, because I am seemingly so simple.

Simple? Yet, not a single person on the face of this earth knows how to make me. This sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? Especially when we see that Rome once crucified 6,000 slaves at once, hung on crosses just like me, planted on the Via Appia.

Ponder me. A stauros. A cross. Consider my stipes and patibulum. The post and bar. Two planks of simple timber. Fixed together. What do you see? Not much that meets the eye. A few metres of hardwood. Splintered and bloody. Stipes implanted in the ground. Reused for victim upon victim. Some ropes. Some pegs and nails. I am physical, and yet symbolic. I have been emblematic for various causes through history, from warriors to medics, from haters to lovers. As an instrument of death in the hands of the Roman Empire I evoked horror, and humiliation, the very people who employ me most are terrified of my power — the orator Cicero insisted Roman citizens should not be confronted with the barbarity of even my name.

Just as you cannot trace your family tree back very far, so is it impossible for me to name and explain all my antecedents. But I would like to suggest enough of them to impress upon you the richness and complexity of my background.

My family tree may seem, simply and literally, to begin with a tree; a cedar, an olive, or a fig tree, a tree of unknown species, grown somewhere around Jerusalem. Perhaps even the mystical dogwood — though unlikely. I grew from seed, sprouted, shot upwards, branched out, before being felled by an axe and stipped of branch and bark, turned to timber. My construction might seem simple. Two logs held together, and my victim affixed, by spike and rope. You may wish to contemplate the axes, rope, horses and carts, and countless other tools used in harvesting and carting logs to Golgotha and the barracks. Think of all the persons and the numberless skills that went into their fabrication: the mining of ore, the making of iron and its smithing into axe heads and blades, the growing of nile grass and bringing it through all the stages to heavy and strong papyrus rope; the logging camps with their beds and mess tents, the slaves and soldiers overseeing the work, the cookery and the raising of all the foods to feed these mouths. Why, untold numbers of persons had a hand in every cup of wine the soldiers drink, and every piece of armour they wear! Timber was scarce in Jerusalem so my upright pole, my stipes, remained rooted, planted, at the place of the skull, while my victims bore the patibulum from their trial to their deathly destiny.

Don’t overlook the ancestors present and distant who have a hand in creating me, not simply my physical reality, but my meaning.

My origins may seem arboreal, and, indeed, corporeal, and yet, it is the ethereal, symbolic sense of my significance that is where my family tree truly begins. Erected, as I was, in Jerusalem, I carry the stench of a curse for the Hebrew, and the aroma of abasement for the Roman. These odours were cultivated by years of tradition and practice. My ancestors were creations of Darius I of Persia, and employed by Alexander the Great. The Romans perfected my use and made me the most despised symbol in all the world — 6,000 slaves, the army of Spartacus, were once nailed to my predecessors and dotted liberally, one every 33 metres, along the Appian Way, a bloody road map to Roman supremacy. Dionysius of Halicarnassus in book VII of his Roman Antiquities from 7 BC, described the path an individual would take on his journey to death on the wooden arms of my forefathers…

“A Roman citizen of no obscure station, having ordered one of his slaves to be put to death, delivered him to his fellow-slaves to be led away, and in order that his punishment might be witnessed by all, directed them to drag him through the Forum and every other conspicuous part of the city as they whipped him, and that he should go ahead of the procession which the Romans were at that time conducting in honour of the god. The men ordered to lead the slave to his punishment, having stretched out both his arms and fastened them to a piece of wood which extended across his breast and shoulders as far as his wrists, followed him, tearing his naked body with whips. The culprit, overcome by such cruelty, not only uttered ill-omened cries, forced from him by the pain, but also made indecent movements under the blows.”

Observe my function, and my meaning. I am a well-honed instrument of humiliation and torture, the end of a torturous road for the accursed. Those designated as less than nothing in the eyes of the world. I am an instrument of death, and a symbol of power.

“Whenever we crucify the condemned, the most crowded roads are chosen, where the most people can see and be moved by this terror. For penalties relate not so much to retribution as to their exemplary effect.”—Quintilian, Declamation 274, The Tyrant Struck By Lightning.

For the Jews, I am anathema. Moses proclaimed that one hung, executed, upon a tree, a tree like me, was accursed by the living God. By the time Rome occupied Israel, death on a tree was a special punishment for traitors — those who sold Israel out to foreign powers, the Temple Scroll discovered amongst the Dead Sea Scrolls, says:

“If a man slanders his people and delivers his people to a foreign nation and does evil to his people, you shall hang him on a tree and he shall die. On the testimony of two witnesses and on the testimony of three witnesses he shall be put to death and they shall hang him on the tree. If a man is guilty of a capital crime and flees to other nations, and curses his people, the children of Israel, you shall hang him also on the tree, and he shall die. But his body shall not stay overnight on the tree. Indeed you shall bury him on the same day.” —11QT Temple Scroll LXIV

My history, my family tree, as it were, the origin story behind my significance began even earlier than the practice of crucifixion.

It was no accident that my symbolic was turned upside down, that the Cross became a symbol of glory, and hope, of life, rather than death. It was part of a plan.

A plan that began with two other trees — a tree that brought life, and a tree that brought death. God’s plan to destroy evil, and his promise to crush the Serpent. Satan. A promise centred on the “lamb slain before the creation of the world”— the Lamb, the Son, whose hands flung stars into space and hold heavens and earth together.A plan that would see those hands skewered with odious spikes, on a cursed tree. His feet pierced, his side lanced.

The events that took place, painted in blood on my splintered canvas, were planned from the very beginning, even from before the creation of the world. It was no accident that the divine son of God, the Son of Man, found his arms affixed to mine, it was no accident that those looking on at these events hurled insults — they could do no less. It was no accident that the child of promise arrived at a time in history when I stood tall as a symbol of human power. The symbol that best represented the might of the god-kings of Rome, and their superiority over any who claimed to oppose their right to rule. It was no accident that Jesus was tried as a traitor by both Jews and Romans, and sentenced to an exemplary, cursed death. For many before him, I was a final resting place, corpses were left to rot on my cruel axis. But not for this one. And from this moment on, the fabric of the world was torn asunder, this rending of the heavens, itself, symbolised in the tearing of the Temple curtain, with this shattering of what was, and re-creation of what is, my significance was inverted. The curse reversed.

Does anyone wish to challenge the assertion that no single person on the face of this earth knows how to make me?

Actually, millions of human beings have had a hand in my creation, no one of whom even knows more than a very few of the others. Indeed, every human hand that has been and will be — hands raised in rebellion against God — play a part in holding the divine Son’s hands to my boards, to holding me together at the centre of history. Every life gives significance to my promise of judgment or mercy. Judgment for the death of the Son, or mercy bought by the blood spilled into the grains of my beams, and on to the earth beneath.

Here is an astounding fact: Neither the Romans who appointed me to my task, nor the Jewish crowd who looked on, not the governor, the timber workers, the soldiers, the quartermaster, the slave, the high priest, the Pharisees or teachers of the law, nor even those hung on my contemporaries on Golgotha, know how I came to be, nor wanted me, or wanted to understand my significance. Certainly I do not occupy the same place in their life, or those lives that came after me, that I do in space and time, or in God’s plans. The motivation of these people is other than me.

Perhaps it is something like this; when people are at last confronted with my significance and place in the plans of the God who orchestrated space and time such that his own shoulders rested on my wood, they are left wanting my significance to be their significance, their motivation, perhaps, at this point shifts, so I am the symbol they take up in order to live and know life.

The master-mind at the heart of my story, my creation, is astounding. The strings of history pulled, twisted, laid out and brought together in my being, and doing, are the product of an invisible hand at work. Not the work of an apprentice, but a virtuoso.

It has been said that “only God can make a tree.” Why do we agree with this? Isn’t it because we realize that we ourselves could not make one? Indeed, can we even describe a tree? We cannot, except in superficial terms. We can say, for instance, that a certain molecular configuration manifests itself as a tree. But what mind is there among men that could even record, let alone direct, the constant changes in molecules that transpire in the life span of a tree? Such a feat is utterly unthinkable! If this is true of any tree — how much more of this tree. The tree at the centre of the universe?

I, Crucifix, am a complex combination of miracles: wood, rope, metal and so on. But to these miracles which manifest themselves in Nature an even more extraordinary miracle has been added: the configuration of creative human energies and co-ordination of human history, superstition, culture, and power structures — millions of tiny know-hows configurating naturally and spontaneously in response to human desire and in the absence of any human master-minding! Since only God can make a tree, I insist that only God could make me. Man can no more direct these millions of know-hows to bring me into being than he can put molecules together to create a tree.

The above is what I meant when writing, “If you can become aware of the miraculousness which I symbolise, you can help save the freedom mankind is so unhappily losing.” For, if one is aware that I sit at the heart of divine creativity, that I am the backdrop for the divine drama writ large in history, authored and orchestrated from the beginning of life in this world, then one will possess an absolutely essential ingredient for freedom: faith in God. Freedom is impossible without this faith.

If I, Crucifix, were the only item that could offer testimony to what God accomplishes by divine creative expression, then those with little faith would have a fair case. However, there is testimony galore; it’s all about us and on every hand. Sunrise, sunset, the cosmos itself and its beauty is a testimony. The best of our humanity — love, the creation of relationships, life, art, and complex systems that enhance these things. Our co-creativity, our ability to write and appreciate stories, to bring threads together, woven into rich tapestries. The production line for apparently simple devices, like the pencil. The creation of supply chains. Human ingenuity and problem solving as a reflection of the divine nature.

Why, in this area where men have been left free to try, they deliver the human voice around the world in less than one second; they deliver an event visually and in motion to any person’s home when it is happening; they deliver 150 passengers from Seattle to Baltimore in less than four hours; they deliver gas from Texas to one’s range or furnace in New York at unbelievably low rates and without subsidy; they deliver each four pounds of oil from the Persian Gulf to our Eastern Seaboard—halfway around the world—for less money than the government charges for delivering a one-ounce letter across the street!

The lesson I have to teach is this: Let the event at the centre of the world shape life in it. Take up your cross and follow the one whose hands were nailed to my arms. Merely organise society— starting with your own life— to act in harmony with this lesson. Have faith that free men and women will respond to the Invisible Hand. This faith will be confirmed. I, Crucifix, seemingly simple though I am, offer the miracle of my creation as testimony that this is a practical faith, as practical as the sun, the rain, a cedar tree, the good earth.

Book Review: Paradoxology

I’ve spent the last year having my mind blown by four big ideas.

One. The story of the Bible, centred as it is on the death and resurrection of Jesus, required an incredibly intricate amount of planning and execution, which I think is the mark of a truly sublime story.

Two. The way the Bible’s narrative becomes richer if you see the Image of God as a vocational calling to be the living God’s living ‘idols,’ such that turning to, and being shaped by, dead idols is a fatal mistake that undermines the foundation of what it means to be human, and turning back to God, via Jesus, who carries out this vocation perfectly, is where we rediscover what it means to be truly human. Like the people we were made to be. The whole Old Testament seems to explore what happens to people when they live like the God who brings life calls them to — as his representatives — or forget who they are made to be, chasing after things that are sources of death, not life.

Three. What happens to a bunch of theological questions — especially surrounding the Cross, and the questions we want to throw up as objections to God — when you grapple with the concept of infinity, and the idea that God is infinite and we are not.

And four. Just how essential paradox is to Christian theology — which is especially cool when paired with a growing sense I get when I try to understand crazily intelligent scientists (of the Quantum Physicist variety) that being comfortable with paradox is foundational to heaps of modern science.

I’ve thought about other things too. And thinking almost always blows my mind. But these are incredibly untapped wells. Thinking too much about paradoxes and infinity hurts my head, in a way that gives me hope that I’m on the right track… But I do think there’s a whole lot of meaty thinking in these two areas both for Christians and skeptics alike. When we fail to defend Christian belief without these two head-hurting ideas in the mix I think we’re selling our belief short. Think about the essential paradoxes at the heart of Christianity. The Trinity being one God in three persons. Jesus being fully human, and fully divine. The Bible being fully human, and fully inspired. God being fully in control of creation, but our experience suggesting we are fully in control of our own decisions… these go on. And on.

There are also heaps of really tough questions Christians need to, I think, be able to answer. For ourselves, even if not for others. Questions about God’s character and actions in the Old Testament and at the Cross (I tried to articulate my view on this question here), the question of why evil exists at all in a world where God is said to be infinitely good, and infinitely in control (I had a stab at saying what I think on this question here). I don’t think science is a good reason not to believe in the God of the Bible —  but I think these questions, and others like them, might be. If we can’t answer them. I can certainly understand people who choose these objections as reasons to walk away from God. Another challenge is, of course, why the church — the people of God — are so very disappointing on so many fronts, from institutionalised abuse, through to the ongoing existence of the brokenness that pervades all our relationships still existing in this community that is meant to have things more together.

Enter Krish Kandiah’s ParadoxologyHere’s a video promo.

It’s a pretty sensational book, I enjoyed its honesty and its humanity. Its willingness to ask questions. I want to say, right from the start, that I would absolutely and wholeheartedly recommend reading it, buying a few copies, and lending it to people. I’d give it to people without expecting to need to have massive conversations defending the content of the book — but there were just a couple of points at which my own personal idiosyncrasies meant I wasn’t quite satisfied with his answers. We’ll get there below.

I love the weight given to the book by Krish’s real life examples. The questions aren’t asked in isolation from real life — each chapter, each paradox, includes examples from Krish’s experience, both as a convert from a largely non-Christian family, in his own family life, and from his ministry. He seems like an absolutely stand up guy. I have no experience of this other than reading about him online, but the presentation of his life, in pixelated form, suggests he embodies the life this book calls us to live. His willingness to ask questions, and to deal openly with alternative answers to some of the paradoxes he raised, demonstrates the kind of intellectual integrity that I think is absolutely essential to any sort of ethical persuasion. I won’t deal with everything he deals with in depth — suffice it to say, the paradoxes mentioned above are all dealt with, with charity, humility, and grace. The book moves from paradoxes raised in the Old Testament to paradoxes raised in the New. There are crossovers, of course, where some paradoxes are only truly resolved by the paradox at the heart of the Bible’s story — the incarnation, where Jesus, the divine son, a person of the Trinity, becomes human. And is executed. I felt a little like this was a weakness — I had to read all the way through to that chapter to really get a satisfactory (at least for me) answer to the what Kandiah calls the Abraham Paradox and the Job Paradox. But that’s a minor quibble, when you think about it, because the Bible functioned in the same way for people who read the OT before Jesus arrived on the scene.

I highlighted 357 passages in the book. According to my Kindle stats. And I’m looking forward to revisiting them as I preach, write, and think, about some of the questions Kandiah tackles.

I’m never sure how useful any book is going to be in actually persuading people to shift their thinking on the question of God. There are plenty of times in Paradoxology where I felt like I was convinced, or had my beliefs reaffirmed, because I already accepted a bunch of the categories Kandiah was operating with, but I wasn’t sure how useful some of those categories would be for people who’ve thrown the theology baby out with the theistic bathwater. If, like Dawkins, a reader thinks all theological categories are hogwash until proven otherwise, this book doesn’t necessarily undo that thinking. It does present Christianity as intellectually coherent, and stimulating, and I think it does a pretty good job of removing theology from abstraction and showing how belief in God and acceptance of a bunch of Christian categories for thinking about the world does have a real pay off for how we live. I think the real benefit for de-churched readers is that Kandiah tackles many objections that people who have a familiarity with Christianity might bring to the table in a winsome no-holds-barred (or no-questions-barred) way, quite removed from a defensive group-think mindset that some might be expecting. While, for the unchurched, or those of other faiths, Kandiah frequently compares his robust Christian account of a paradox with alternative attempts to reconcile the same observations of the way the world is (and various senses of the way the world ought to be).

Again. This is one of the books I’ll be having on hand to work through with people — probably particularly Christians who are struggling with concepts of God that feel too black and white, or simple, but also with people who are prepared to give Christianity some serious thought, the kind of thought where one is prepared to entertain mystery and paradox without needing to resolve them into a neat package.

There were heaps of passages I really enjoyed in the book. Here’s a sampling — and one or two very minor quibbles.

I love this definition of faith.

“The belief that faith is by definition a blind leap into the unknown is so prevalent that often unbelieving friends will say things to me like, ‘I wish I could believe like you do, but I think too much.’ This might sound like a gracious compliment but it is actually an insult – perhaps unwitting – and might be better phrased: ‘I respect your faith, but I’m just not as gullible as you.’ They may as well have said: ‘I used to believe in the tooth fairy too.’ Many people have described faith as believing what you know isn’t true. Richard Dawkins, the vocal atheist and zoology professor, dismisses it as ‘the process of non-thinking called faith’. But the Bible refutes this. Looking more closely at Abraham’s story, there are three things that we can establish about the nature of true faith. First, faith is not a leap in the dark. The Bible’s stories, including this episode in Abraham’s life, are all intended to refute this mis-definition of faith. The Bible is full of testimonials that present reasons for trusting in God. Jesus himself described his words and his miracles as ‘evidence’ for belief. The step of faith is an informed decision. This may sound like a paradox, but it is one we live with every day. Take, for example, the mundane but potentially life-changing decision to cross a road…

…When it comes to crossing a road, we gather evidence with our eyes and ears, and when we are reasonably confident that it is safe, we step out in faith and aim for the other side of the road. Similarly, when as Christians we take a step of faith, we use judgement based on gathered evidence and previous experience, and, trusting in our convictions, we move forward. Abraham had his eyes wide open when he decided to lead his son to Mount Moriah and offer him as a sacrifice. He had evidence that God would fulfil his promises. He had already experienced the miracle of God’s provision of Isaac. He had seen that God could bring dead things to life. He knew that his future was safest in God’s hands. So it was an immensely challenging, but not an intrinsically irrational, step to keep trusting God.”

His most powerful chapter — perhaps because it’s the question I personally find most vexing — was the Joshua Paradox, an exploration of the Canaanite genocide. Coupled with the Job Paradox, an exploration of the question of suffering, you’ve got two chapters which, by themselves, are a reason to buy the book. These are the questions he sets about answering:

How do we reconcile the paradox of a God who has compassion on the Jewish nation through all their failures, but then commands them to show no compassion towards other nations? How can a God of love order the annihilation of a whole people-group, the mass slaughter of men and women, old and young, and even animals too?

“Whether we are forced to watch the suffering of others, or experiencing suffering in our own lives, we desperately want to know ‘Why?’ Why does God stand passively by when there is so much suffering going on all the time?”

I like his answers. But I do wonder if one aspect of the answer to the question of how we’re meant to feel in the face of the Canaanite thing is similar to how Job is told to feel, by God, in the end of the Book of Job. It’s not just, as Paradoxology suggests, that God is judge, that the people of Canaan are being judged justly, that our very existence (in the face of universal condemnation for sin) is a merciful gift from God, and that God accommodates people and achieves his purposes by using the only kind of war available at the time — though I think these are all true. There’s also the sense that we’re meant to be uncomfortable in the face of these stories. We’re meant to react as humans. To be compassionate rather than robotic in the face of pain. To empathise with those facing God’s judgment — judgment we also deserve.

Even as God continues to use war and evil to carry out his purposes— assuming that’s how the Romans 13 reality operates, where Governments are appointed by God —we’re meant to do what we’re called to do, as people who follow Jesus, love God, and love our enemies as we imitate our crucified king. We should be moved by compassion, and a sense of injustice and horror about the reality facing other humans, even if this reality is tied up with God’s judgment. I think Kandiah is right, in the video, and the conclusion of the book, to remind us that a properly robust relationship with God includes being prepared to voice our feelings, and our protest, and that this is part of not being crippled by paradox.

It’s nice that Paradoxology deals with Joshua and then Job. Because Job is kind of the human reaction to suffering on a micro-level, rather than a whole nation suffering, we get Job suffering. And asking questions. And being comforted by a bunch of ‘wise’ friends.

I love Job. It’s taken me a while to get my head around exactly what’s going on. Job’s friends spout a bunch of worldly wisdom at Job. They look like they’re doing the right thing, and what they’re saying could have come out of the pages of Wisdom Literature from around the Ancient Near East. They think they’re being Job’s friends. But they’re not. They’re saying a bunch of stupid stuff. The importance of understanding the nature of their ‘friendship’ will, hopefully, become clear in a moment.

Kandiah suggests one of the dilemmas presented and resolved in Job is the question of where God is in suffering.

“Why does he criticize our tendency to walk on by on the other side of the road when we see people in need, when he himself sees all suffering and yet chooses to do nothing? Does God not care? Does God not understand? Or perhaps he is, after all, incapable of stepping in? God’s deliberate policy of not fixing things when we are suffering highlights one of those universal paradoxes – we believe that God is active and powerful, so if he does not intervene, we are forced to conclude that this God is actively choosing to be passive”

Again. The Job Paradox is a stirring chapter. But here’s something I wondered as I re-engaged with Job, and read this chapter. What if Job’s friends acted like Jesus? What would that do to the Book of Job’s approach to the paradox of human suffering and God’s apparent absence?

Here’s how Kandiah sums up the story of Job.

“The book of Job challenges the premise of the paradox that God is either too weak to stop suffering or too mean to bother to do so. This book asserts that there are circumstances when an all-powerful and all-loving God might allow suffering to take place. Acknowledging this point is very difficult to grasp, most of the book of Job argues the opposite case.

Job receives a seemingly endless cycle of visits and lectures delivered by his so-called friends Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar and Elihu. They all assume more or less that ‘if you sin, you will suffer’ and equally, ‘if you suffer, you have sinned’. They spend hour after hour, page after page, repeating this line of reasoning. Sometimes it feels that Job’s counsellors might be just trying to wear him down with their many words. It makes the book difficult to read, let alone understand. Perhaps the exasperating experience of reading the book of Job is intentional, as we encounter the obtuse and yet insistent counsellors.

Maybe finding Job’s friends infuriating acts as a warning to us to avoid their mistakes. They are earnest and well-meaning, but they are almost completely wrong in what they assume about God, Job and the universe. Perhaps too we may be reminded of the need for genuine humility, the need to be slow to speak and quick to listen. If we follow this advice we will be able to avoid causing some of the pastoral and emotional damage that Job’s friends bring.”

What if Job’s friends had come to Job with wisdom beginning with the Fear of the Lord — exactly the wisdom God confronts Job with at the end of the book. The sort of wisdom that the Israelites who read the finished book of Job hopefully picked up, and carried with them, as they comforted friends and family members (and neighbours) in the midst of real suffering? Surely the real way to be a friend in suffering is not to speak empty words, but words of real comfort (or to just sit, and speak no words at all). Surely the real way — later modelled at the Cross — is to enter into, and share in, the suffering of another, in order to alleviate it.

I love the link Kandiah draws between Job and Jesus… he hints towards what I think might be a profoundly challenging answer to people asking where is God when people are suffering…

“The book of Job points us to another time when an innocent suffered because God’s honour demanded it. The paradoxes that trouble us in thinking about God’s character coalesce around what we as Christians believe to be the most important events of human history – the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. On the cross we see the perfectly innocent and blameless Jesus suffering due to no fault of his own. What Job was asked to do involuntarily, Jesus volunteered for. Satan was not allowed to touch Job’s life – Jesus gave up his life.

Ultimately, God has not been passive about the evil in the world: he has actively submitted himself to suffer on our behalf. As we shall see in the paradox of the cross, it is because of Jesus’ death that the sin and suffering of the world will be finally resolved. This has two important implications, which help us with the paradox of pain. First, when we suffer we are not further away from but rather drawn closer to the one who suffered for us. Second, when we reach out to relieve the suffering of others we are most like God, because God did everything that was necessary to deal with the evil and suffering in our world.”

If the church is the body of Christ, if we’re united to Christ, if we’re being conformed into his image by the Holy Spirit, then surely part of the answer to the question “where is God in suffering” in our world, is that God is there wherever the Church is seeking to provide comfort in a wise way. God is not absent unless we choose to make him absent, by absenting ourselves. I think God can certainly be present without his church, but our responsibility is to really love our neighbours, like Jesus did, not like Job’s friends did. This was one of the points at which it might have been structurally helpful for Paradoxology to have front-ended the Jesus Paradox. The fullest account of all the other paradoxes is shaped at the foot of the Cross.

It’s a great book. Buy it. Read it. Give it to your friends.

Here are some other bits that I loved.

“…It is only because of our limited time-bound vantage-point that God appears to be unpredictable, when in fact his actions are entirely consistent with his character. We only see a glimpse of what God is doing. Our lives are like a screen-grab from a movie. We can only comprehend a tiny fragment of the total picture, so it is hard for us to understand what God is doing. Imagine that you had never seen the classic Disney Pixar movie Finding Nemo, and you were given a single frame of the film and asked to guess the storyline. In this single image is a tiny orange clown fish talking to a huge shark. You can marvel at the colours, at the amazing graphic skill the digital artists have achieved, and the strange posture of a hunter communicating with his prey. But you couldn’t know whether this is the end of the film or the beginning. You couldn’t tell whether the shark is about to eat the clown fish, or if the clown fish has managed to talk down his aggressor. There is certainly no way of telling that the shark is a jolly aspiring vegetarian who is deeply moved by the clown fish’s story of loss and determination. One picture cannot possibly give enough background information to guess what happens next. Compared to the eternal purposes of God, even a decade of our lives is like that freeze frame in a movie. Of course, God can zoom in and know every miniscule detail of our daily lives, but we are incapable of zooming out to see our lives with the advantage of distance, bigger context or retrospect.

So what should we do when God’s actions (or his inaction) seem unpredictable or irrational? God’s response to Habakkuk is to tell him to … wait for it … yes, to wait for it…

Waiting is difficult, though, because we like to feel we are doing something. But the waiting that God asks for is not tedious passivity – he encourages us to wait actively, giving ourselves to God’s purposes in the world. Waiting involves continually living by the values of the coming kingdom, knowing that one day they will be vindicated by God himself. Waiting is also difficult for us because the more we have to do it, the more we are inclined to give up hope. But waiting can be a powerful testimony of our true allegiance.”

And, on the Cross…

“Imagine watching the ultimate heist movie with, of course, a priceless diamond arriving at a museum. The alarms are set to cover every inch of the display hall, and weight sensors are sensitive to the nearest gram. Extremely careful planning is necessary by the prospective thieves so that at the decisive moment an unnoticed switch or substitution can occur. The diamond has to be replaced by something that is exactly its weight, or all the alarms will sound and the caper is over. This image gives us an inkling of what was going on when Jesus died on the cross. This particular substitution had been planned in minute detail since before the beginning of time itself, and signposted throughout the Jewish Scriptures. You can see those signposts from the moment that sin entered the world. God had promised that if humanity sinned, death would result, but in the Garden of Eden the first thing to die after the fall were not sinful human beings but animals, sacrificed to provide fallen people with the clothes they needed to cover over a nakedness that was no longer appropriate in a world contaminated by sin…

God was building up to the exact moment that his Son Jesus was born in Israel, at a time when the country was under Roman occupation. The death of Jesus involved the ultimate substitution. Jesus’ death did not just satisfy but fulfilled the sacrifice system set up in the Old Testament.

The cross of Jesus is the place where all of God’s plans come together. X marks the spot: this place, this time is where God is resolving the great paradox of history. God uses the tiny details of history to solve the riddle of the universe, demonstrate his perfect love and redeem his broken world.”

Dealing with genocide in the Bible

I had a crack at answering the conundrum that is the violence of the Old Testament in an essay in first year. And again in preparation for an exam last year. I’m still working out exactly what my answer to this moral question is – I think I’ve decided I was wrong in my earlier efforts to get my head around this issue.

I think I’m closer to the answer, and I’m hoping writing this post helps me get closer again… it’s a complex question, so it requires quite a bit of complex working out. And this post is some of my working. It’s long. It’s the longest post I’ve ever written. So maybe grab popcorn or something. Or just skim it. I thought about making this a series of posts, but I’d rather just have one long one, and not occupy people’s feed readers for days. Sorry. Skipping one post is easier than skipping eight.


Brick Testament rendition of Joshua 10:30

So did God carry out genocide in the Old Testament? And does that matter?

I think he did. And I think it does.

But not in the way the the New Atheists want to think it happened – or matters. I think most people operate with far too small a picture of God. A picture of God that looks like a big human, who should act like a big human, and should be judged like a big human.

This issue is much more complicated than flat and ‘literal’ readings of the text made popular by the likes of the New Atheists allow, and I can’t understand the indignation these Dawkinesque types direct towards a God they don’t even believe exists…

The question isn’t really “did God do this” – either he did or he didn’t. If you don’t think God exists then you’ve really got nothing to complain about when it comes to the events described in the Old Testament. If there’s no God involved then Israel should, according to the narrative, be commended as the little guy who did everything they could, against the odds, to survive amidst nations of bullies – who did worse things enemy children than kill them in battle.

The question is, if God did this, why aren’t we rising up in rebellion against him and trying to take him out in some sort of cosmic battle? The old epics are full of this stuff. Why are people so keen to worship, love, and revere him? Why are people prepared to speak of him as good?

What Christians are really being asked when they’re asked this question is “how can you be part of something like this, rationally, aren’t you better off writing it off as a nasty myth?”

But anyway, here’s a walk through my present thinking on this question… It’s quite possible I am wrong. It should always feel wrong to be appearing to be defending genocide, especially if it involves the death of children.

I don’t think it’s going to be satisfactory to everybody. It possibly won’t be satisfactory to anybody. But this will be where I send people when they ask me what I think about violence or genocide in the Old Testament. It’s meant to be comprehensive. It’s hopefully a helpful window into how I can still be a Christian while acknowledging that there are things we understand to be shocking in the Bible.

And if you’re one of those people I’ve sent here in the future, or you’ve been sent here by someone else – I want you to know four things.

Firstly, I just want to say from the outset that you don’t need to worry – I think there’s a big difference between something being described in the Bible and something being prescribed (or commanded) in the Bible.

Secondly, I really don’t want to shirk things here. I don’t want to dodge the question. I don’t want to pretend there’s nothing that looks like genocide in the text of the Old Testament (or, perhaps more importantly – though I’m largely dealing with the Old Testament – in the picture of Hell, God’s judgment, in the New Testament). I also don’t want to defend God, or defend the authority of the Bible. God doesn’t need me. He speaks for himself, through the Bible. I’m ultimately, in this piece, trying to defend the rationale, in my head, for thinking it is morally and intellectually coherent to submit to, and revere, the God of the Bible.

Thirdly, I quote big chunks of the Bible here – for two reasons, I want to show my working, and show how I think the Bible accounts for its own content, and secondly I don’t want to assume that you, dear reader, are necessarily familiar with what the Bible says, or that you’ll look it up. I’ve tried to bold the bits that are extra significant for my argument so that you can skim. I’ve used headings to break up the monotony of the text, and to help you skim to bits that might scratch the itch that has brought you here.

And lastly, if you don’t stick around to the end of the post (because it’s quite substantial) – it’s important, I think, that you consider the character of the God who Christians believe is behind both the Old and New Testaments – an infinite God who sends himself into a finite world, to a death on the cross, for people. This is a big deal.

Bigger than we can grasp.

We who are born to die, for whom death is a day to day reality – we sort of take death for granted. It’s part of our daily assumptions and decision making process. It’s real. But God dying? An infinite and immortal God – a person of the Trinity – becoming man and dying, is actually a really, really, big deal. It takes a bit of a revolution in our thinking to get that. But how many human lives is one infinite life worth? Mathematically speaking?

Using a poor analogy – how many ants is it ok to kill to save one human life? I think we’re approaching the magnitude of the cross when we get a sense of that question.

Anyway. If you want to read on…

Continue reading

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Transcript from Rory Shiner’s great debate with Lawrence Krauss

I’m thrilled this approach to defending Christianity is getting good air time. Rory Shiner’s self-deprecating Christ-focused winsomeness is now available in text form, thanks to Eternity (and Rory for sharing it). This would’ve been handy before I tried to type out the Shakespeare stuff.

I love that both Eternity and I settled on the word “winsome” to describe this approach. Seeing Krauss disarmed like this was pretty special, especially in contrast to the Brisbane debate. In a post-Christian world – where people aren’t just not into Christianity, but are also potentially angry about how we’ve wielded our power and influence during Christendom – subverting caricatures in a winsome way is going to be one of the keys to being heard.

Winsome.

Manner is, I think, as important as content in these contexts – because it is part of demonstrating your ethos – and a huge part of pathos.

Being on about Jesus is incredibly important – that was my main criticism of William Lane Craig’s approach – but being Christlike in the face of a hostile court is a huge part of communicating the gospel.

Being winsome will still win a hearing.

That is evident in the difference between how Krauss treats his two interlocutors during his Australian tour.

I love how Rory opens with self-deprecation. I love how he remains epistemically humble and acknowledges the parts of the Christian case that are likely to be unsatisfactory to those who don’t share our starting assumptions. I love that he doesn’t overreach. I love that he was a charming advocate who stuck to the main game – the resurrection, and did it with a bit of artistry.

“The potential of tonight’s event being something of a mismatch has given me two recurring nightmares over the past month. First, that my efforts would end up featuring on a Atheist YouTube comedy channel, and secondly, the abiding fear that the word “Shiner” will become a neologism in the atheist community—a newly minted verb to describe a wild mismatch resulting in hilarity. To Shiner, or to be Shinered.”

This next quote overlaps with the one from my last post. But it is so good.

This act of revelation centres of the man Jesus Christ, who was born in Palestine at the time of Herod the Great and Tiberius, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate and who, Christians believe, was raised to new life by God somewhere in the wee small hours of a Sunday morning in a graveyard on the edge of Jerusalem.

At the point of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, Christianity puts its head on the chopping block of history. It is not like the stories of dying and rising gods of antiquity. Such stories come from outside of Judaism, in which Jesus was firmly embedded. And those dying and rising gods were indexed against the seasons, and fertility. They were about how things are. And they were precisely gods, not men. Their dying and rising happened in the dream-time, in pre-history.

If you asked a pagan, “On what date did Osiris rise and at what time?” you would get you a puzzled face, saying: “You don’t really get myth, do you?” Jesus by contrast was crucified under Pontius Pilate, within the time of our history, and, it is alleged, rose to life in April, early in the morning, on a Sunday.

It is a claim of history. It is not scientific in the limited sense of observation, hypothesis, testing, repeating and so on.

No Christians claim that, under the right conditions, a 33 year old dead Jewish body will, in a sufficiently cold and dark tomb, come back to life within 72 hours. It is not a claim for something that happens, but for something that happened.

Whether on historical grounds it is reasonable to believe that that is what happened requires the kind of reasoning domestic to the discipline of history: written evidence, conjecture, probability, testimony and historical hypothesis.

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How to ‘debate’ an atheist mega brain and talk about Jesus winsomely

My Lawrence Krauss v William Lane Craig post went a little viral with WLC’s fans – and even on Reddit’s r/atheism. I had no idea I was tilting at two sacred cows. Especially when it comes to the Christians – I can’t figure out how it is wrong or controversial to suggest that Christianity should be, primarily, about Christ.

Anyway. After that event, WLC and LK toured the country, with a couple more debates. Then WLC flew home, and Krauss didn’t. He stayed to have a final debate in Perth. Perth’s City Bible Forum brought out a local – a pastor – Rory Shiner. A real ‘David’ – if William Lane Craig can’t legitimately be described as such. Krauss’ fame as an intellectual far outweighs Shiner’s. If you read those links above, the David v Goliath analogy didn’t really work for either WLC fanboys or Krauss fanboys. Apparently Christianity is too big and powerful to be David, while WLC is too smart to be considered a David relative to Krauss…

Anyway.

Rory tried something a little different in his debate. He subverted the debate format. He appears to be prepared to take a few blows in order to be winsome and keep the conversation coming back to Jesus.

The best advert for his methodology is the description from an atheist who was there as a:

“magnanimous and cheerful crucifixion”

(source – that came from Rory on Twitter when I asked him how it went).

This, I think, is how you “debate” – it’s certainly how you be Christlike in this sort of situation.

Krauss is clearly a little enamoured with this conversation, and with Rory – he even says they have become friends in 24 hours (in video 2).

He can’t help but be nice. It’s in stark contrast to his approach to William Lane Craig.

Check them out. Discuss them. What lines are you going to steal? I love the Shakespeare stuff (video 1, from 27 minutes).

I like that he channels Paul at the Areopagus. I also likes that he writes off ‘generic’ forms of knowing God (sort of – “they wave their arms in a godward direction”), in favour of knowing God from revelation.

The Shakespeare analogy is so good that I’ve typed it out here to come back to in the future.

“When Christians speak of God they speak of a character not in our world. He’s not part of the drama. If the world is Hamlet, then God is Shakespeare. Shakespeare is nowhere present in Hamlet, and yet by Shakespeare everything that happens in Hamlet lives and moves and has its being…”

And then…

“If God is to our universe as Shakespeare is to Hamlet, then revelation is necessary. Could Ophelia conclude anything about the nature and character of Shakespeare from her position in Hamlet? No Hamlet, like our universe, makes a good deal of sense on its own. And just as the literary critic does not need to keep invoking the Shakespeare hypothesis to make sense of the drama, the scientist does not need to keep invoking the God hypothesis to make sense of her discoveries, and for Christians, this is not a bug. It’s a feature. We have a universe that is gloriously open to empirical investigation, and any Christian here should wait with bated breath for Doctor Krauss’ next book as we discover good and gorgeous things about our world. But for Ophelia to know Shakespeare – to stretch our analogy to breaking point – is for Shakespeare to write himself into the play. And that’s the specific Christian claim. Christians claim that the transcendent God of creation has for reasons of love written himself into the unfinished drama of human experience. The act of revelation centres on the man Jesus of Nazareth. Born in Palestine at the time of Herod the Great, crucified under Pontius Pilate, and who Christians believe was raised to new life in the wee small hours of a Sunday morning in a grave yard on the edge of Jerusalem. At the point of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, Christianity puts its head on the chopping block of history.”

Is this not a better way than blustering ahead without listening to what your interlocutor is throwing at you?

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The problem with Christ-free (or non Christ-centred) apologetics

Krauss v Lane Craig round 2 happened in Sydney last night. The head to head is producing interesting conversations around the traps – and these are a good thing.

The conversation I’m keen to keep pursuing is the nature of properly Christian apologetics.

Here’s something William Lane Craig said in a pre-round 2 preview in Eternity

“E: Some Christians would say that if you don’t get the gospel out, or talk about Jesus in these discussions, then you lose. What do you think?

Oh, you won’t hear a gospel presentation tonight. It has nothing to do with Christianity per se tonight. We as Christians share with Jews, Muslims and even deists a common commitment to the existence of a creator and designer of the universe, who is the ultimate reality and from which everything else derives, and that’s what I’m defending tonight. This is a broad, theistic claim in opposition to Dr Krauss’ atheism.”

Since that question pretty much articulates the objection I raised in my previous post, I thought I might bash out this response.

I think the Apostle Paul would be horrified with this methodology.

I think this reconstruction of Paul’s feelings matters when thinking about how we defend our faith because I think Paul is perhaps the most effective Christian apologist of all time, and apart from Jesus, the best model for Christian engagement with the world and the intellectual defence of Christian belief (I won’t argue it here – read my project). Or read Acts 17 and Paul’s appearance before the Areopagus. Or try to account for Christianity still existing today without Paul’s contribution to Christianity today…

This statement means William Lane Craig went into a debate, deliberately limited by the title of the debate, and resolved NOT to know Jesus and him crucified. 

I can’t imagine Paul ever doing this. I can’t imagine any Christian apologist doing this – let me clarify. I think William Lane Craig is a Christian. And I think he’s an apologist. I think it’s just clear the “Christian” doesn’t qualify the “apologist” function.

I wonder if part of the problem is that in order to “give an account” for the hope that we have, we’ve tried to answer every objection people who don’t know Jesus might have when it comes to Christianity. That seems to be Craig’s modus operandi – convince people to be a theist and that will naturally lead them to Christianity – but Paul seems to pretty consistently aim to present the resurrection of the dead – particularly the resurrection of Jesus – because that is the absolute basis – the ground zero – of intellectual objection to Christianity.

It’s the point at which Christianity is falsifiable, and the point Christianity hangs on in terms of all the claims it makes about our status before God.

“16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” – 1 Corinthians 15

23 The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, 24 but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. – Romans 4

The intellectual offence Christianity presents is not that we believe in God – if we think it is, we’re giving far too much ground to the New Atheists.

Using a platform where you’re speaking to thousands of people who are interested in the relative truth claims made by Christianity and atheism to deliberately not articulate the core of Christianity – Jesus, his incarnation as revelation, his crucifixion and resurrection from the dead – is negligent at best.

That is where most objections to Christianity come from. That is where the offence is. The crucifixion. The resurrection. It has been since day one. The crucifixion has become such a core part of our cultural narrative – count the crosses you see in the average day – that the offence of the cross has been lost a bit.

But it was offensive. Here’s what Cicero said about 70 years before Jesus.

“Even if death be threatened, we may die free men; but the executioner, and the veiling of the head, and the mere name of the cross, should be far removed, not only from the persons of Roman citizens—from their thoughts, and eyes, and ears. For not only the actual fact and endurance of all these things, but the bare possibility of being exposed to them,—the expectation, the mere mention of them even,—is unworthy of a Roman citizen and of a free man…”

It was equally offensive to Paul’s Jewish audience. Here’s what Moses said in Deuteronomy 21.

22 If someone guilty of a capital offence is put to death and their body is exposed on a pole, 23 you must not leave the body hanging on the pole overnight. Be sure to bury it that same day, because anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse. You must not desecrate the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.

The Cross was – and still should be – an incredible impediment to apologetics, but it should also, I think, shape our approach to apologetics (see my earlier thoughts on Lawrence Krauss v WLC).

Apart from the Christians – who were actually accused of atheism in the Roman Empire – the Stoics were the closest thing to atheists going round in the first century. They were driven by rationality. They pursued decision making free from emotions. They were idealists. There’s something incredibly appealing about the Stoic framework. They certainly didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead.

And this is where Paul goes in Athens. When he’s speaking to a Stoic audience – he doesn’t argue from cosmology – and in some sense the Stoics did with nature what the New Atheists do with science. Or present a sort of abstract monotheism – even though he’s talking to people who are potentially pantheistic, if not atheistic (though you couldn’t really get away with atheism in Rome). Here’s what the Stoic founding fathers believed.

The substance of God is declared by Zeno to be the whole world and the heaven, as well as by Chrysippus in his first book Of the Gods, and by Posidonius in his first book with the same title. Again, Antipater in the seventh book of his work On the Cosmos says that the substance of God is akin to air, while Boëthus in his work On Nature speaks of the sphere of the fixed stars as the substance of God. Now the term Nature is used by them to mean sometimes that which holds the world together, sometimes that which causes terrestrial things to spring up. Nature is defined as a force moving of itself, producing and preserving in being its offspring in accordance with seminal principles within definite periods, and effecting results homogeneous with their sources

“God is one and the same with Reason, Fate, and Zeus ; he is also called by many other names. In the beginning he was by himself” – Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers

Here’s what the poetic account of the founding of Athens declares about the resurrection…

Oh, monsters utterly loathed and detested by the gods! Zeus could undo fetters, there is a remedy for that, and many means of release. But when the dust has drawn up the blood of a man, once he is dead, there is no return to life. – Aeschylus, The Eumenides

So Paul is facing an essentially pantheistic/polytheistic audience who build and certify gods for every cause – and rather than providing evidence for a monotheistic God that the Deists would be happy with – he simply asserts that God exists and created the world on the way to getting to the real offence of the gospel.

29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” 33 At that, Paul left the Council. 34 Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.

I think part of the problem I have with WLC is that we seem to have a profoundly different answer to the following question.

PB: What is your best evidence there is no God, and what’s the best evidence there is a God?

Well, I would say that the best evidence that there is a God is that the hypothesis that God exists explains a wide range of the data of human experience that’s very diverse. So it’s an extremely powerful hypothesis. It gives you things like an explanation of the origin of the universe, the fine-tuning of the universe, of intelligent life. But also the presence of mind in the cosmos, an objective foundation for moral values and duties, and things of that sort—it’s a wide range of data that makes sense on a theistic worldview.

The best evidence there is God is the historical Jesus. The creator entering the creation and revealing himself through his word made flesh. God became man and changed the world. That’s the best evidence for God. It’s also got to be the basis of our apologetics or we’re getting the foundations all wrong.

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What do you do when Goliath kills David? William Lane Craig v Lawrence Krauss

Tonight was the long awaited first instalment of three public debates between Christian apologist Dr William Lane Craig and scientist-come-new-atheist Prof. Lawrence Krauss.

It confirmed most things that I thought about adversarial public debates between the religious and the irreligious – they aren’t very useful. Nuance is lost. People talk past one another. And everybody goes home more entrenched in their own position.

Except.

This time, unlike other debates I’ve watched, I felt like the atheist, Prof. Krauss, got the better of the Christian.

In the story of David and Goliath – an unlikely champion goes up against a big and powerful enemy and scores an unlikely win. He slays the powerful enemy.

In the gospel story an unlikely figure – a Jewish carpenter-come-Messianic figure – Jesus – goes up against the religious and political establishment and secures an unlikely win through the mechanism of a likely loss. The powerful enemy slays him. Only he is victorious in death. That’s the sublime paradox of the Gospel.

Tonight – William Lane Craig was trying to imitate David. He wanted to slay the giant. He brought some pretty impressive stones – his well-oiled set of philosophical axioms (though he certainly tried not to engage in the snark that Krauss brought to the table from the opening bell) – but he was the David you’d expect to see in most mismatches of this size. He was crushed. Blitzkriegged. Beaten from pillar to post.

The debate titled “Has Science Buried God” became, very quickly, “Krauss Buries Lane Craig.” Krauss barely touched on the debate topic, and when he did, it was to offer inane and debunked comparative cliches about Christianity in comparison with other ancient religions, or to over reach on science’s behalf – inconsistently attempting to suggest science is just a tool, but also suggesting that it is synonymous with rationality, rather than a tool for the rational. He was patronising, he treated the audience like children, he read his slides – word for word – he barely touched on his field of expertise. He also pretty constantly talked over the top of Lane Craig, relied on crass one liners like “forcing religion onto children is child abuse,” and was generally cantankerous. Despite a 10 minute opening plea from the moderator for a civil conversation between humans who held different opinions, Krauss was on the attack from beginning to end.

Where Krauss scored points, and where he took the argument away from Lane Craig, was on the unrelated question of Lane Craig’s moral theology, his account of the Canaanite genocide employing a Divine Command Theory argument – that God is always right to kill children, in judgment, on the basis that he also necessarily saves them in order to be a loving God.

Now. I’m not going to expand on why this argument is poor, theologically – except to say that both William Lane Craig and Lawrence Krauss need to reconsider what it means to read a passage in context, with a bit of literary and historical sensitivity. Why was the text written? What rhetorical purpose did it serve? Does it match the account of history found in subsequent parts of the narrative? Why did the text remain the way it did, not get edited, after the fact – when the Canaanite children (and adults) were intermingling with Israel and causing all sorts of domestic destabilisation? These are questions neither of these guys answers.

I’d suggest the violence in Canaan requires a fair amount of historical sensitivity, an understanding of where Israel was coming from – if they are fleeing slavery, a slavery where the king of Egypt slaughtered their male children on a cruel whim, if they were a people without a land in the Ancient Near East, and if they did believe, and had marked out previously, their own land that had since become occupied – then they were confronted with a bit of a dilemma. Then you’ve got to consider that similar commands to kill all the Canaanites are coupled with commands not to marry the Canaanites. Something complicated is going on.

Unpacking that sort of complication is probably out of the question in a format like this. Impossible even. That it took up so much of a debate that, by title, had nothing to do with the topic, is a failing of the debate – and especially a failing of William Lane Craig, who like a punch drunk boxer, decided to hang out on the ropes and let Krauss pummel him.

But William Lane Craig’s bigger failing. In my mind. Was that he didn’t ever really go beyond providing a philosophically cogent case for theism. Here he was as Christianity’s champion (it possibly didn’t help that the moderator kept including Islam and Judaism in the discussion – which was odd given the event was sponsored by the City Bible Forum). And instead of championing Christianity, a robust Christianity centred on the historical person of Jesus, he was championing abstract concepts of a loving God who can carry out genocide.

I’m not going to pretend the genocide question is easy. It’s not.

But Christian morality isn’t based on Divine Commands from Deuteronomy or a “developing morality through the New Testament and over the next thousand years” as moderator Scott Stephens put it. Christian morality and ethics are based on Divine Example. The life and death of Jesus Christ, historically, on behalf of his enemies. As an act of love.

And here’s where I think Lane Craig’s biggest failing came – and I think it’s the big failing most Christians fall into when we’re thrust into adversarial positions.

He tried to imitate David. Not Jesus. He set out to slay the giant. And he didn’t even do that right… In the story of David and Goliath, David rejects the conventional weapons of warfare and uses a sling. So ultimately David’s bizarre method of ancient near eastern giant slaying has more in common with Jesus taking it to the Roman establishment by being crucified than it has with playing a power game.

This might be a little simplistic – but giant slaying in improbable situations is nice in theory. But it’s not, I would argue, paradigmatic for Christ shaped interactions with the world, nor is it particularly conducive to presenting a gospel of weakness – the story of a king killed on a cross.

While I reckon God is capable of using small and inadequate people to win great victories – David didn’t beat Goliath by wearing armour and taking the fight to him. I don’t think we win people over by engaging in this sort of debate where you’re using the verbal equivalent of the Queensberry Rules and talking past one another, not to one another.

Lane Craig was gracious under fire. Don’t get me wrong. But didn’t really try to reach across the divide to Krauss in a particularly winsome way. He didn’t simply turn the other cheek and cop the flogging that Krauss dished out. And he certainly didn’t get to the cross – even when he was specifically asked about an ethic that cares for the vulnerable he went to Jesus’ words, not his actions at the cross.

I understand that I’m essentially advocating that Christians go into these situations to essentially deliberately lose the fight but win the war. With dignity. But that’s the only way to, I think, faithfully embody the gospel in an adversarial situation. You don’t imitate Jesus by landing the most telling blows on your opponent. You imitate Jesus by how you take the blows, while pointing people to the gospel.

It would be cliched and anti-intellectual for me to just run to 1 Corinthians 1 at this point…

“18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”

I think philosophical thinking, and being prepared to give an account for the hope that you have, is important. I’m not suggesting we abandon the field of apologetics – there just has to be a way to shape the way we do apologetics through the example of the cross, and with the message of the cross. I guess I am suggesting that in some sense, our philosophy, for it to be properly Christian, not simply defending theism, monotheism even, we do need to take the rest of 1 Corinthians 1 seriously…

27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

It’s hard to do this in a debate. But Paul managed in similar setting throughout Acts – and he paid the penalty for his refusal to play Corinthian debate/oratory games – we see that in the way he defends his approach to public speaking in 2 Corinthians. It’d be nice for those engaging in discussions with the New Atheists, or even just with run of the mill atheists, to be trying to present God’s wisdom. Not man’s.

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Video games as pro-God propaganda

Two pieces have piqued my interest today. Unrelated, but related. The first, from Overthinking It, questions whether video games, by their nature, inspire belief in a creator.

Now, I’ve given up on taking part in apologetics debates online, and mostly on the need to convince people of God’s existence using science and philosophy. It’s not that I don’t find the arguments convincing, it’s just that I think that the gospel is more than fancy logic, and people aren’t going to be argued into believing it (though such arguments might be part of conversion).

Anyway. This is interesting because it considers Christian apologetics from the perspective of a video gamer, who seems to be more interested in philosophy than religion.

Here’s a longish extract.

““It was incredible,” you say. “I mean, if anything had been just a little different – if those question blocks hadn’t been exactly where they were, or if there hadn’t been those Piranha Plants and that Propeller Cap inside but, let’s say, a Fire Flower instead, I’d never have been able to get those star coins! Everything was arranged so perfectly, so precisely. It really makes you think it was all put there on purpose, you know? Like it was designed.”

Luigi, ever the skeptic, replies: “But if things weren’t the way that they are, they’d just be some other way instead. Maybe in that case you’d be raving about how unlikely that was. Or you wouldn’t have known there was any star coin there at all and you would have just kept on going.”

The argument Mario and Luigi are having here is what’s known in philosophy as the Anthropic Principle. In one certain formulation, the Anthropic Principle puts forth the idea that the laws of the universe and the particular circumstances of our place in it seem so precisely modeled to bring about the necessary conditions for intelligent life – so fine-tuned that if any one element had been just a little different it would be impossible for human beings to exist – that it indicates a Creator who intentionally made things this way in order to bring us about in the way that we are. Basically, it’s an argument for the existence of God. That’s what Mario is proposing and it’s often referred to as the Strong Anthropic Principle. Luigi’s point is that the appearance of design is no proof of design, because if things were different enough that we couldn’t exist to observe them, we wouldn’t be around to notice. So we don’t exist “on purpose,” but since the universe happens to be the way that it is, it just happens to be possible that we exist too.”

The article goes in pretty interesting directions after that. It’s worth reading.

The second article was from a Christian gamer, writing at Christ and Pop Culture, reflecting on the Skyrim experience, and the treatment of “theology” present in the latest, greatest, RPG.

“As I was exploring Skyrim, I was attacked by a band of cultists dedicated to the god “Boethiah.” Upon defeating them, I learned of the location of their cult and out of curiousity, decided to go investigate it. When I found the priestess of Boethiah, I learned that the cultists had been luring innocent people to their shrine and killing them in worship of their god.

There was no option to report the cult to the governing authorities, so I decided it was time to bring some vigilante justice to these murderers. I carefully planned out each of my attacks and took out each of the 6 cultists who were stationed near the shrine. Just as I took down the last one and was beginning to feel as though I had done something good to protect the innocent citizens of Skyrim, my screen blurred and I heard a voice from the heavens shouting, ”WHY HAVE YOU KILLED MY SERVANTS!”

It was disturbing to say the least. In a moment, a god, who in my mind only existed as a cultural artifact, came to life. I couldn’t have a detached relationship to Boethia because in the world of Skyrim, he actually exists and I found myself face to face with him.”

Fun stuff. But ignore all this, because video games are stupid (at least according to some).

John Lennox on science and faith

Like the rest of evangelical Australia I’m a bit of a John Lennox fan at the moment. His turn on Q&A last week was a masterful attempt at presenting the gospel graciously in a relatively combative adversarial format. Those critical of his content (and I’ve seen a couple of Christians suggesting he could have answered a couple of questions better) should pay heed to the format, and the way both Eva Cox and the ABC’s moderator Virginia Trioli were keen to jump in on him before he could finish answering their questions. He articulated the need for forgiveness and the intellectual legitimacy of a God who intervenes in creation in a personal and relational way. I thought he did a stellar job. I thought Virginia Trioli’s banging on about circular reasoning was a little bit annoying because truth will essentially be self authenticating and circular, circular reasoning is a fallacy, but it’s not a defeater.

Anyway. Here’s John Lennox on a topic I wrote an essay about this semester.

Answering Ehrman

The Ehrman Project is a good little site dedicated to answering the arguments Dr Bart Ehrman’s objections to the Biblical text.

It features video clips from prominent Christian scholars putting Ehrman’s research, and popular writings, in an appropriate place.

Here’s philosophy guru Alvin Plantinga on the question of evil:

Each of his books gets a thorough rebuttal. Here’s video number one in answer to Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus featuring BW3.

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New Testament 102: What’s going on at the Areopagus (part two)

So Paul’s speech at the Areopagus is an opportunity to introduce a new Gdo to Athens. The God. And it’s not an opportunity he lets slip. He grasps wit with both hands and uses it as a chance to preach the gospel, and in doing so he demonstrates more than a passing familiarity with the philosophy and practices of those he engages with. Bruce says he did this because he had found common ground between inconsistencies in Stoic and Epicurean thought and practice, and similarities between their doctrines and the Old Testament.

“He [Paul] was not borrowing his theology from the philosophical schools for pragmatic purposes.”

Bruce sees his speech before the Areopagus (as do I, as a pretty masterful piece of apologetics, for an article to that effect rather than my notes on his lecture on apologetics see Introducing Athens to God: Paul’s failed apologetic in Acts 17? (PDF), J.D Charles agrees in this article Engaging the (Neo)Pagan Mind: Paul’s Encounter with Athenian Culture as a Model for Cultural Apologetics (PDF)). Other scholars think it’s an apologetic model Paul tried and gave up, feeling a bit disillusioned (this view was made popular by a guy named Ramsay in St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1895)), or that Paul was actually on criminal trial to determine if his teaching was subversive (see this Google Books reference from Stanley Porter). I think Bruce’s reading actually makes the most sense, only Porter’s criminal trial theory explains the presence in the narrative of Acts, the idea that Paul gave up this sort of apologetic falls over a bit when you observe Paul’s continued engagement with Greek philosophy (see his quote from Epimendes in Acts 17:28 and his other Cretans quote in Titus and the Epimenedes Paradox), and Roman law and culture in his subsequent trials. Plus the narrative of Acts 17 reports converts (so it’s hardly a failure). Some suggest Paul’s resolving to know nothing but Christ (1 Corinthians 2:2) was Paul’s general approach to apologetics and not one particular to Corinth in the light of their issues with idolising gospel preachers as though they were first century orators.

Paul’s Apologetic Method (and the introduction of new Gods)

Paul opens with observations about the culture, and at the same time, points out that the God he is talking about is not a new God, but an Old God…

22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

Then he addresses specific questions the Areopagus sought to answer regarding new gods

24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.

He begins to look at what divine honours might be appropriate or required for such a God (what do you give the God who has everything?).

26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.

Then he demonstrates his familiarity with their culture and thinking

28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

This verse actually contains a quote from Epimendes and another from a Aratus, a Stoic philosopher.

Then he again turns to the question of temples and statues

29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill.

And finally, he turns back to the question of what God requires from converts and the proof of God’s epiphany (in this case Jesus and the Resurrection, the gospel he had been preaching)

30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

Bruce suggests Paul makes five affirmations about the knowable God – that he made the world, determined the boundaries of the nations, that he can be sought through general revelation, that idols don’t represent him since we are his offspring, and that all people are called to turn to him or face judgment.

The Stoics, in De Natura Deorum had a sequence to be met in the presentation of new gods: first: prove God exists, second: explain their nature, third: show that the world is governed by them, fourth: show that they care for mankind.

Bruce says:

“The summary in Acts 17 assumes their belief in God‘s existences and His role as the creator of the world who is Lord of heaven and earth, (v. 24a). It affirms He gives life and all things to all his creation, (v. 25b). His providential care is intrinsically bound up with the needs of all mankind, (v. 26). Paul developed his theme on the nature of the known God thus.”

Paul also tackles issues of divine providence, from Bruce:

…in the Athenian speech there are important resonances with the Stoic view of providence. This may well have been Paul‘s most important bridge with that segment of his audience. Balbus sets out what he sees as the Stoic thesis that the world is ruled by divine providence…of the gods‘, only familiarity blinds us to nature‘s marvels.‘ For him providential government of the world can be inferred firstly, from divine wisdom and power,  secondly, from the nature of the world, thirdly from a detailed review of the wonders of nature,  and fourthly from the care of man.

Also, Bruce points out that Paul’s use of the singular “God” rather than “gods” was right down the alley of the Stoics and Epicureans – and elements of his speech to the Areopagus directly attack their understanding of theology.

The Stoics and Epicureans would have had no difficulty with the use of the singular ‘god’, for in one sentence they used the singular and plural interchangeably. For example, Diogenes Laertius speaks of ‘worshippers of god’ as those who ‘have acquaintance with the rites of the gods’ and who know ‘how to serve the gods’.

Much of Paul’s argument also plays on tensions between Stoic and Epicurean thought, in the same way that his argument before the Pharisees and the Sadducees played on tensions between those two groups.

Epicureans believed that God was living, immortal, and blessed – terminology Paul often uses to describe God in his letters. The Epicureans would have found common ground on that point, and further on the point that God could be discovered (and that an unknown God could be made known) because they believed God was knowable and clear to all. They also, importantly, dismissed the idea of God(s) living in temples – they didn’t like anything that looked like superstition, and both agreed that God had no need for human resources.

But the notion of an afterlife was completely foreign to Epicurus (the founder of the Epicureans) who said:

“Death is nothing to us; for the body, when it has been resolved into its elements, has no feeling and that which has no feelings is nothing to us”

Which is probably why the crowd reacted like they did when Paul mentioned the resurrection (in much the same way that the Sadducees reacted in his audience with the Jews).

Bruce thinks Paul was actually calling the Stoics and Epicureans out on social compromise on their philosophies – and offering a better way.

“The Stoic self-contradiction, as Plutarch pointed out, was that they  attend the mysteries in the temples, go up to the Acropolis, do reverence to statues, and place wreaths upon the shrines, though these were the works of builders and mechanics”

Epicurus himself had believed that popular piety was not correct—‘For the utterances of the multitude about the gods are not true preconceptions but false assumptions,‘

Some final thoughts from Bruce:

“Stoicism and Epicureanism in the imperial period had to endorse religious pluralism if they were to maintain their following, given participation in the imperial cult as one of the ways of affirming their loyalty to the empire.”

“No dialogue can be called  Christian‘ that does not possess the five elements expressed in Acts 17. So Paul‘s sermon in Athens was highly pleasing to Almighty God and these essential elements are to be repeated if we are to win the hearts and the minds of our contemporaries who need to believe the gospel.”

J.D Charles agrees (though he spends his time pondering the philosophical nature of Athens):

“Summing up Paul’s rhetorical strategy in Athens, we may note that the Apostle was knowledgeable, dialectical, well-read, relevant, and rhetorically skillful. What particularly strikes the reader is his ability to accommodate himself to the knowledge-base of most Athenians. Viewing Paul’s encounter with Athenian culture as such, we may conclude that his ministry was not a “failure.” Nor is it necessary to assume that his not-too-distant reflections about the power of the cross, recorded in 1 Corinthians 1–2, were penned with a wrong apologetic model (i.e., Athens) in mind.
To the contrary, a more accurate assessment of Paul’s ministry in Athens may be summed up by his own testimony to the Corinthians: “I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more. To the Jews I became a Jew … ; to those without the law, I became like those without the law … I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Cor 9:19–22).”

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Apologetics: The Study of Scripture as a Scientific Pursuit

Peter Lillback, president of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia is our guest today. He’s looking at apologetics from the vantage point of the scriptures… He called this “The Study of Scripture as a Scientific Pursuit” – it’s actually more accurately “an introduction to presupposition apologetics.”

These are my notes.

Knowledge is a great challenge and a philosophical question – “how do you know what you know” – that’s the beginning of the study of the Bible. When we’re defending the faith through the scriptures we’re claiming to know something both of the Bible and of God.

The study of religion is useful in apologetics.

What is religion – from the Latin roots – “the tying/binding together of things that are separate.”

Scientism: I only know what I can know by the scientific empirical method. This is the form of religious skepticism that we know today. How do you put God into the test tube? You can’t. So taking this approach to religion doesn’t work.

The science of religion is different to the religion of science.

The science of religion – how do we know what we know? The study of the binding together of things (man and man, man and God) through religion…

This uses science in the broad sense of the word – it’s analogous to what a linguist, anthropologist or other pursuit of knowledge does (outside of the material sciences).

Think about religion in its broad sense – the way Paul Tillich considers it – “religion is that thing or person that is beyond everything else that we engage. It is that absolute transcendent reality or ultimate concern that defines us.”

Everybody has that ultimate concern that defines us. How do we really know what that ultimate concern is in our life? What is it?

Some of Lillback’s basic presuppositions:

  1. Everyone is religious – we all have an “ultimate” concern or a transcendent reality.
  2. Because all human beings are finite we all believe something – we’re limited, we’re not omni-anything, so some of our knowledge comes from belief or trust in something external. This is how we know, or think we know, what we know. The phrase “people of faith” applies universally – we all have a transcendent concern and a faith that comes out of that. These presuppositions come cf Abraham Kuyper. They necessarily therefore live their lives in faith flowing from that presupposition.
  3. Nobody is objective. We can not look at the world objectively. We all have these presuppositions that get in the way of seeing the “facts” – we all look at things and define them via our bias. Nobody is ultimately objective. Cornelius Van Til: “imagine a man of water living in a world of water who builds a ladder of water to climb out of the water so that he can see what is not water” – we can not escape what we have perceived and defined our world to be. If we bring materialistic assumptions to the world we can not help but find materialistic conclusions (that by nature exclude God).

These presuppositions must be engaged with the people we encounter. People try to engage the world in the following ways:

  • Deduction: logical inference based upon the presuppositions in which we operate. The logic we use is like a refrigerator – if you put good meat into the freezer two days later it’ll still be good. If you put rotten meat in it won’t come out good. Logic is a capable tool, but not magical.
  • Induction: gathering data together to draw conclusions.
  • Intuition: instinctive knowledge based on our suppositions.
  • Revelation – we can not know God by our own investigations, we will only know God if he reveals himself to us. The daring claim of the science of religion as a Christian is that it is impossible to know God without revelation.

As Christians we too are finite, and not objective (in fact our subjectivity is moderated by the Holy Spirit – not just our bias) – we put our faith in revelation.

Our framework is exactly the same as the non-Christians. Our presuppositions are the same. Our treatment of ourselves is consistent with our treatment of others.

We all have this transcendent point from which we operate. Everybody starts with preconditions born out of their presuppositions. Ours is “I believe that God has spoken through the Scriptures…” Following this presupposition we can stand on the word of the Lord. Taking this stance removes the ability for culture to pull us in ebbs and flows and beat us with erudite arguments.

Philosophers in the realm of epistemology suggest we know certain things to be true regardless of our experience (eg. if I took two apples from one side of the room and two from the other and put them in the bag then we’ll all agree that two and two makes four. We intuitively know this). We also have knowledge by experience (a posteriori). The Christian says we have that knowledge through our experience with the Bible. We also have internalised knowledge through the work of the Spirit (a priori). The Holy Spirit is part of our presupposition (ED Note: which provides interesting ramifications re: confirmation bias). Scripture is self-authenticating to those with the spirit (ED Note: which also has some interesting ramifications re: circular reasoning).

We are called as gospel preachers and teachers to ask people to experience for themselves rather than understand our descriptions, “taste and see that the Lord is good” – Millbank used Edward’s honey analogy.

The Science of Religion is the knowledge of our ultimate concerns. These ultimate concerns come with presuppositions. We all interpret our world through our presuppositions. Christians believe that the knowledge of God is only possible through revelation. We believe the Spirit gives us an a posteriori and a priori basis for trusting the revelation of God through the Scriptures. The Christian therefore is called to study the scriptures “scientifically” – this is a Christian epistemology of the study of scriptures… we talked about definition, presuppositions and method… which leads us to the scriptures.

Kuyper: There are two types of science in the world because there are two types of people. Those who are born from above by the Spirit and those who have not. These types of people will look at the world and the Bible very differently.

We look at the Bible as though it is God speaking to us – other “biblical scholars” study the words on the page very differently. Even when the Bible is open it’s a closed book to the second category of people.

Bible bits that support this view:

1 Corinthians 2: An extraordinary passage on the epistemology of religion from a Christian perspective. This is a rough paraphrase (Peter read from an NIV, I had my ESV in front of me)… starting from verse 10.

“But God has revealed it to us by his Spirit… only by those who have been touched by God can know these things… we have not received the Spirit of the world but the Spirit that is from God… The natural person does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God because they are foolishness to him…”

Paul on Mars Hill (Acts 17): he declares his worldview and declares the need for repentance – Van Til said the greatest apologetic is to preach the Gospel.

1 Thessalonians 2:13

“We thank God continually because when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God.”

The word of God isn’t clever exegesis and stirring oratory but the way the Spirit works through the Bible.

Luther: I don’t defend the Bible, I preach the Bible. The Bible defends itself…

Apologetics from a Christian perspective is a declaration of the Bible’s truth from the Bible. And this is legitimate because everybody comes at the world with their own presuppositions.

Another analogy: an explorer visits a lost valley and discovers a lost people – a tribe where every person was blind. None of them had any idea what seeing was. And the explorer tried to explain to them what seeing was. Nobody believed him. They couldn’t fathom the existence of seeing. He spent time alongside them, becoming part of their community – one day they asked if he wanted to join the tribe – on the condition that he pluck out his eyes…

This is, apparently, an analogy for apologetics. Let the reader understand.

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Apologetics inside the church

Kim Dale is a Pressy minister in Queensland, he does a fair bit of thinking on apologetics, and in particular the issue of worldviews. He was essentially converted through apologetic dialogue with a Christian. He’s our guest lecturer today. These are my notes – unless indicated they are rough or direct quotes from Kim.

Apologetics: The written and spoken defense of the Gospel where there is opposition, and it’s done in love.

This definition prevents apologetics just being “argument” for argument’s sake. There may be times when it might seem like that.

On Walk Up Evangelism: One of the drawbacks is that you don’t actually want to get engaged for a long time – we need to think about the relationship between apologetics and evangelism. There’s an organic relationship between apologetics and evangelism.

We have to be ready and prepared to give answers – but we need to be doing that in a loving way.

Francis Schaeffer, in The Mark of the Christian calls love “the final apologetic” – if we aren’t demonstrating love then we may get really frustrated in the attempt of sharing the Gospel. Schaeffer says we need to be able to give the message of the gospel and be prepared to actually give it when the situation arrives. Schaeffer uses John 17.

Apologetics needs to take place, where possible, in a community of Christians – there needs to be some exposure to the nature of Christian relationships and Christian people in order to see the genuineness of Christian love. That’s part of the deal of apologetics. Sometimes it may seem artificial to get people involved. Even if it seems that way at first they need to see the genuine love of God – which is often beyond us as individuals.

There can be situations where we don’t want to bring anybody to our churches – because of the presence of hypocrisy – where all our arguments will, as a general rule, fail on the basis of love.

There might be times where what you’re going to do, so far as apologetics is concerned, is just show love. Rather than rehashing old arguments. Getting to know people and where they’re coming from is a good move. We can get overly defensive or offensive when it comes to the gospel.

Where do we do it?

Normally we would think of apologetics as something we do outside the church, with non-believers. But we have to defend the gospel in the church. It has an important place inside the church. The overwhelming amount of information available in modern culture can be overpowering. We have to expose ourselves to this information, and it can be enjoyable. But we have to be prepared to take a break.

The religious and philosophical scheme is so diverse that it’s inevitable that the church is effected on the inside by what is happening on the outside. We need to defend the faith from the pulpit – people within the life of the church will doubtless call on you to make such a defense.

We’re to be “on guard,” but it’s not just defense – we need to be prepared to correct or destroy ideas (in love) to dismantle and break down harmful ideas both within and without. There’s “knowledge” that sets itself up against God. And that has to be dealt with. Sometimes these moves should be in public (and we see books published addressing anti-God arguments). There is an offensive strategy that we need to embrace.

Part of apologetics is clarifying other people’s thinking for them – asking “how can you make the judgment?” and “on what basis?” Get people to question basic assumptions.

Areas where having thought about apologetics have helped Kim.

  1. Going through the membership vows – and the person says “I believe that, but I also believe in reincarnation”… where do you go from there?
  2. Some people wanting to become members said “we used to belong to the Presbyterian Church, my wife taught Sunday School”… and in going through things like the divinity of Christ and they say “yes, in the same way that I’m divine too, as a son of God.” Where do you go if they’re not going to change on those positions. You explain the faith, and you deal with the consequences.
  3. When receiving an email after a sermon that said “when you were preaching there was a halo around you and three angels standing behind you” and then went on with a bunch of numerology stuff…
  4. God can’t act until we pray” said from the pulpit when doing prayer in the morning.

What if he’d said “yes” to all of those – you need to make sense and be doctrinally consistent. That’s the necessity of apologetics inside the church. We need to have some interactions with the other ideas that are out there.

How do you deal with people when you know they have odd ideas?

Try to get to know them, outside of the Sunday morning context, get them in a situation where they’re learning (eg a Growth Group), it can, for individuals, take a tragedy or difficulty and you being there pastorally.

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Bruce Winter’s tips for apologetics

We’re doing a bit of a mini-subject on apologetics this semester as part of a weekly “preparations for ministry” session.

Yesterday’s session featured Bruce Winter sharing some insights on the important discipline of apologetics garnered from his extensive studies on Paul and his culture, and from his experience as an apologist in Singapore and while working as an academic in England (Cambridge).

Here are my notes:

Every Christian is required to be ready to give a reason to the hope that lies within them.

It’s interesting that the word there – apologia – goes beyond the idea of giving some answer. Stoic philosophers used apologia to argue their case while interacting in a substantial way with the mindset of the people they’re addressing.

How are we going to engage in apologia with people in the 21st century? Two Ways To Live isn’t going to work for everybody. We see from the way that Paul tackles apologetics that he engages the culture around him.

We need to engage the audience and move around their world – Paul’s letter to the Romans is a great apologia that removes objections to the gospel – objections that come from the mindset of people living in first century Rome.

Paul argues that we need to pull down every argument against God both within and outside the church – he talks about demolishing the stronghold of people’s ideas contrary to God, he distinguishes between the argument and the person. Paul demolishes and reconstructs these arguments “captive to Christ.

Acts 17 is a good example, and a good paradigm, of Paul connecting with the audience and their expectations and producing converts. This is the parliament of Athens.

Five things to learn from Paul to connect and engage with people’s world. This message needs to engage the thought world of the people around it.

  1. We have to connect our message with the audience we’re speaking to – Paul connects – he makes the connections the audience required (in introducing a new God to the council – eg the building of a temple, holy days/sacrifices), he also uses their culture (eg the statue of the unknown god) to engage.
  2. We have to structure our message in a way that provides a hearing for the gospel – The framework we present the gospel in changes based on the audience – talking to sciency people requires a different presentation to talking to people from different religious backgrounds. The main aim is that people hear the gospel connected to their world.
  3. Know how to connect the message, and know what it needs to correct – Paul knows that people need the gospel, but he also knows what the objections to it are, and he addresses them with the correction of the gospel.
  4. Converse with their world – it’s remarkable when you read historical sources talking about the nature of God and compare it to the way Paul quotes their arguments and poets/philosophers in his apologia. He understands their world, their language, and their issues. Paul is even able to point out inconsistencies in their current thinking and actions (they talk about the nature of Gods not living in temples made by man, but visit temples – Paul points out they aren’t living up to their basic beliefs and teachings.) He’s read the literature. He knows their teaching. He is well able to bring them to that point through the quotations of their poets.
  5. He confronts his audience – Paul doesn’t steer clear of the topic of God’s judgment and the predicament that places his audience in. God’s judgment coupled with God’s amnesty (he calls on all people, everywhere, to repent). Paul doesn’t compromise. He’s not prepared to negotiate on the fixed points that his audience was bound to be opposed to. It’s a different worldview.  Paul’s sermon in Acts 17 converts people from those opposing points of view and philosophy.

Some questions to ask regarding our approach:

  • How are we going to talk to different audiences?
  • How do we talk to those dealing with the certain uncertainty of death?
  • How do we connect with their views and preconceptions about Christianity and the world?
  • How can we talk to them about their world?
  • How do we talk to affluent people who think they have everything? Their question is different – “what’s missing?” – “what is it?” How do we raise the issue of the gospel in a way that articulates this need in a way they might never have considered?

A question to prompt thought in others is: If you had your life over again how would you do things differently? Everybody is fundamentally aware that they do the wrong thing at least occasionally.

We’re not dealing with blanks slates but people who have spent their lives deliberately ignoring (and justifying ignoring) general revelation. Romans 2 suggests that it’s our conscience that judges us as we face God at judgment day – so the question “how can God…” is irrelevant.

You do the math, you do the monkey math…

Thanks to RodeoClown, in the comments of that last monkey theorem quote, I now know the magnitude of improbability involved in a monkey creating the works of Shakespeare (or, even just one line from Hamlet).

The balance of probability is so incredibly weighted against a monkey even getting the right sequence of letters in order (every time the monkey strikes a letter there are 31 other keys he might press rather than getting the next stroke right that it is only the constraints of logic that mean we can’t call the situation impossible.

Which kind of makes you think. One of the arguments against God is broken down into two similar questions of probability (which seem a bit like a paradox to me) – those suggesting the idea of the God of the Bible occurring is so improbable that it’s impossible are, at the same time, suggesting that the improbability of the universe must, by definition, have occurred given infinite time and space. To me, both seem equally improbable. In any moment prior to the world (as we know it) existing it was much more likely not to start existing than it was to start existing. That little conundrum seems to be pretty easy to resolve to me – if one is true, then both can be true, but if one is false then both must be false. Wouldn’t an infinite universe over infinite time inevitably produce each possible permutation of God until it produced one able to control the parameters? Namely, the infinite space part? I think at this point it’s more logical that something pre-existed the nothing. That skews the probability pretty dramatically. Am I getting something wrong with my logic here? Now that I’ve read the math guy’s answer right to the end I can see that he agrees with me. He also wrote a follow up piece in which he answers my conundrum from the previous post.

“So what happens if you have an infinite number of monkeys typing away? Do we get a script for Hamlet as Mr Adams suggests? Yes, we do! In point of fact, we get every combination of letters possible with the given typewriter, and that in infinite quantities. So not only do we get Hamlet, we get Shakespeare’s complete works, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, this document, and incomprehensibly vast quantities of random garbage. (Note that this document may also qualify as garbage, but I object to it being described as “random”.) An infinite number of monkeys typing randomly will rapidly produce every possible written work. “

The Math

Each time it presses a key, there is a one in 32 chance that it will be correct. To get our little snippet of Hamlet, it will need a total of 41 consecutive “correct” keystrokes. This means that the chances are one in 32 to the power of 41. Let’s look at a table of values.

Keys Chances (one in…)
————————————
1 32
2 32*32 = 1024
3 32*32*32 = 32768
4 32*32*32*32 = 1048576
5 32^5 = 33554432
6 32^6 = 1073741824
7 32^7 = 34359738368
8 32^8 = 1099511627776
9 32^9 = 3.518437208883e+013
10 32^10 = 1.125899906843e+015

20 32^20 = 1.267650600228e+030

30 32^30 = 1.427247692706e+045

41 32^41 = 5.142201741629e+061

204 32^204 = 1.123558209289e+307

The last figure is included only because it is the largest value that the MS Windows calculator can handle — it’s doing better than my hand-held Casio (old faithful!) which only goes up to 1e+99. Okay, so these figures are pretty vast, but we have a lot of monkeys and they can type fast. So how long will it take, on average, for one of my monkeys to type a line matching that sentence? Hard question. Let’s get an idea of how long we are talking here. How many lines can my monkey type in a year, given that it types at a rate of one line per second?

1 line per second
* 60 seconds per minute = 60 lines per minute
* 60 minutes per hour = 3600 lines per hour
* 24 hours per day = 86400 lines per day
* 365.24 days per year = 31556736 lines per year

If you have access to Unix, you can calculate this with the dc command, but be warned that it may take quite a while to calculate and annoy other users because the computer is so slow. Use of the nice command is suggested. The syntax, should you care to try, is as follows. Type the dc command, then type the following lines.

99k
1 1 32 41 ^ / – 60 ^ 60 ^ 24 ^ 365 ^
p

The figure that is eventually printed will be the probability (expressed as a value between zero and one) of our monkey not typing our little phrase from Hamlet in the space of one year’s worth of continuous attempts. The answer that it prints looks like this:

0.99999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999938
6721844366784484760952487499968756116464000

Notice all the nines? Even to fifty or more significant figures, this reads 100%. Okay, so realistically, there is no way that our monkey can do its job in a year. Maybe we should start talking centuries? Millenia? As I understand it, common scientific wisdom suggests that the universe is about 15 billion years old (although they may have revised their dating since I last heard about it). We can easily extend our current figure of one year to count many years. Our calculator will be much faster if we break the calculation down to powers of two and just use the “square” operation, so let’s choose a nice even power of two like 2^34, which is about 17 billion (17,179,869,184 to be precise). The new figure is:

0.99999999999999999999999999999999999999999998946
3961512816564762914005246488858434168051444149065728