The Logic of God (Ravi Zacharias)

 I’ve typically enjoyed Ravi Zacharias’ work in the areas of apologetics and evangelism.  His new book, The Logic of God, is another helpful resource by Zacharias.  It’s written almost like a devotional: there are 52 chapters which each have a theme Scripture text and some questions for further reflection.  Each chapter is quite stimulating and thought-provoking in a Christian and biblical way.  Earlier today I read this section where Zacharias was discussing 1 Peter 3:8-9 & 15-16:
I have always found this to be such a fascinating verse (v. 15) because the apostle Peter, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, knew the hazards and the risks of being an answer-bearer to the sincere questions people would pose of the gospel.  Indeed, when one contrasts the answers of Jesus to those of any of His detractors, it is easy to see that their resistance is not of the mind but rather of the heart.  Furthermore, I have little doubt that the single greatest obstacle to the impact of the gospel has not been its inability to provide answers, but the failure on our parts to live it out.  The British evangelist Rodney ‘Gipsy’ Smith once said, ‘There are five Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and the Christian, but most people will never read the first four.’  In other words, apologetics is often first seen before it is heard.
For that very reason the Scriptures give us a clear picture of the apologetic Christian: one who has first set apart Christ in his or her heart as Lord, who responds with answers to the questioner with gentleness and respect.  Therefore, one must not overlook the stark reality that the way one’s life is lived out will determine the impact. Few obstacles to faith are as serious as expounding the unlived life.  Too many simply see the quality of one’s life and firmly believe that it is all theory, bearing no supernatural component (p. 8-9).
Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Problem of Evil in Atheism (Groothuis)

Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith by [Groothuis, Douglas] In chapter 25 of Christian Apologetics, Douglas Groothuis discusses the problem of evil from a Christian perspective.  In this chapter he gives five unsatisfactory answers to evil.  The first one is atheism.  I thought this was quite helpful:

Given the surfeit of evil, atheism advances itself as intellectually and morally superior to Christianity (and any religion).  Atheism is not burdened with attempts to explain evil in relation to God. Evil just exists in a godless world. The problem vanishes.

But it does not so vanish, for two main reasons.  First, in order to speak of the problem of evil, a person must believe that objective evil exists. To justify this claim, the person needs to adequately explain the existence and nature of evil.  In order for objective evil to exist, objective goodness must exist as well, and good must exist in a more fundamental way.  This is because evil is a corruption or twisting of the good.  Evil does not exist in and of itself….  Evil is the rust on the iron or the hole in the roof.  While a person or an event may be truly evil (the evil is not illusory), that evil could not have existed without an antecedent and original good.

This discussion harks back to our argument for God from the existence of morality, where we argued for the existence of objective moral goods.  These goods eliminate both relativism/nihilism and pantheistic monism, since neither can rationally support the existence of objective moral goodness.  Neither is objective moral goodness a brute fact in a godless world.  Objective moral goodness, therefore, is best explained by the character of a Creator God who made the universe good and gave us the capacity to recognize the good as such, even now in our fallen state. (…)

Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, p. 617-618.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54002

The Truth of God: Not Trendy (Groothuis)

 I find myself going back to this book several times each year in my studies: Truth Decay by Douglas Groothuis.  In chapter three Groothuis gives a nice summary of the biblical view of truth.  I appreciate them all, but number five sticks out to me right now:

The truth of God is eternally engaging and monument, not trendy or superficial.  In postmodern times, our sensory environments are saturated with bright images, intrusive words and blaring sounds – all vying for our attention (and our funds).  Fads, whether in advertising, politics or sports, come and go with increasing rapidity.  It seems that nothing is settled or rooted or stable over time.  In his book, “The Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion” (1993), Stephen Carter laments that for many people (and the state), religion is little more than a hobby, something with which to amuse oneself, a kind of curiosity for when the mood strikes but not something to take all that seriously, especially in matters of legality.

Yet beyond empty ephemeralities, there lies ‘the Rock of ages.’  Beyond the fragility of shifting tastes, hobby horses and market fluctuations stands the Word of the Lord, resolute and rooted in the eternal God of the universe.  ‘The grass withers and the flower falls, but the word of God stands forever’ (Is 40:8). ‘Your word, O LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens (Ps 119:89). And as God  declared to his rebellious people: ‘I the LORD do not change’ (Mal 3:6; see also Heb 13:8). God remains faithful to his covenant with creation and to the community he summons forth.  His word endures and is reliable, from age to age….

God’s truth is grounded in God’s eternal being.  It has no expiration date and needs no image makeovers.  Moreover, it is a living, personal and dynamic truth – a truth that transcends the transient trivialities of our age and touches us at the deepest levels of our beings by including us in an eternal drama.  This truth transforms us, as David knew well: ‘I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you’ (Ps 119:11).

The above quote is found in Douglas Groothuis, Truth Decay, 73-74.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Taking the Roof Off (Francis Schaeffer)

The God Who is There (This is a post from January, 2016.)

I was recently re-reading part of Francis Schaeffer’s book The God Who is There.  Specifically, I studied section 4 – the part where Schaeffer talks about “taking the roof off” of people’s lives.  What he means by this is that when we talk to unbelievers about their belief systems, we show them the inconsistencies, inadequacies, and weaknesses of it.

“The more comprehending we are as we take the roof off, the worse the man will feel if he rejects the Christian answer.  In a fallen world we must be willing to face the fact that however lovingly we preach the gospel, if a man rejects it he will be miserable.  It is dark out there….”

Schaeffer then tells a story about a postgraduate student talking to him and confessing, “Sir, I am in great darkness.”  Schaeffer comments:

There is no romanticism as one seeks to move a man in the direction of honesty.  On the basis of his system you are pushing him further and further towards that which is not only totally against God, but also against himself.  You are pushing him out of the real universe.  Of course it hurts; of course it is dark in the place where a man, in order to be consistent in his non-Christian presuppositions, must deny what is there in this life and in the next.

Often it takes much more time to press him towards the logical conclusion of his position than it does later to give him the answer.  Luther spoke of the Law and the Gospel; and the Law, the need, must always be adequately clear first.  Then one can give the Christian answer because he knows his need for something; and one can tell him what his deadness really is, and the solution in the total structure of truth.

But if we do not take sufficient time to take the roof off, the twentieth-century man will not comprehend what we are trying to communicate, either what his death is caused by, or the solution.  We must never forget that the first part of the gospel is not ‘Accept Christ as Savior’ but ‘God is there.’  Only then are we ready to hear God’s solution for man’s moral dilemma in the substitutionary work of Christ.

Sometimes when we talk to people who aren’t Christians they may already know they are in deep need of help and truth and light.  We might use a different approach with them.  But for those unbelievers who don’t know their need or recognize their dire situation, this approach is a good one: taking the roof off.  It gives us a good opportunity to show the person the riches of the gospel and the hope, light, and life we have in Christ alone.

The above quotes were taken from The God Who Is There, p.162-163.

Shane Lems
http://www.covenantopc.net

 

Worldview: Idols Have Consequences (Pearcey)

 So far I’m very much enjoying this book by Nancy Pearcey: Finding Truth.  It’s a great Christian resource for evaluating various worldviews in light of Scripture.  In this book Pearcey gives five biblical principles for unmasking idolatrous “-isms” like atheism, secularism, materialism, and so forth.  This morning I was reading the section where Pearcey noted that many people who reject God live, think, and act in illogical and inconsistent ways.  Here’s one example:

When God gives people up to their idols, they experience a growing conflict between their worldview and their lived reality.  When I teach these concepts in the classroom, an example my students find especially poignant is “Flesh and Machines” by Rodney Brooks, professor emeritus at MIT.  Brooks writes that a human being is nothing but a machine – a ‘big bag of skin full of biomolecules’ interacting by the laws of physics and chemistry.

In ordinary life, of course, it is difficult to actually see people that way.  But, he says, “when I look at my children, I can, when I force myself, …see that they are machines.”

Is that how he treats them though?  Of course not: ‘That is not how I treat them…. I interact with them on an entirely different level.  They have my unconditional love, the furthest one might be able to get from rational analysis.’  Certainly if what counts as ‘rational’ is a materialist worldview in which humans are machines, then loving your children is irrational.  It has no basis within Brooks’s worldview.  It sticks out of his box.

How does he reconcile such a heart-wrenching cognitive dissonance? He doesn’t.  Brooks ends by saying, ‘I maintain two sets of inconsistent beliefs.’  He has given up on any attempt to reconcile his theory with his experience.  He has abandoned all hope for a unified, logically consistent worldview.  He has no defense.

Later Pearcey notes that this illogical type of worldview will eventually erode since inconsistencies give way.  For example, “If the leadership classes in a society genuinely think people are machines, that conviction will eventually erode political liberty.  Idols have practical consequences.”  Exactly.  For example, see what Paul says in Romans 1:18ff!

For the above quotes, and to note how Christianity answers the call for a logical, consistent worldview, see chapter 3 of Finding Truth.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Abandon Facts but Keep Feelings? (Machen)

J. Gresham Machen Liberalism is not new.  The liberal seminary magazines I get in the mail are printed in full color and talk about smartphones, laptops, and podcasts, but the liberalism in them pre-dates today’s technology.  The magazine I got in the mail last week doesn’t mention the cross, sin or the resurrection, and it barely mentions Jesus or the Bible.  But it does talk about social justice, “Christian” art, interfaith dialogues, and debt.  This kind of liberalism has been around quite some time.

J. Gresham Machen and others had to deal with liberalism a century ago.  Back then the liberals didn’t mind letting go of facts as long as they could keep their religious feelings.  In other words, it didn’t matter to them if Jesus actually came back to life.  What was important was that they could feel him living on in their hearts.  Machen addressed this false Christianity quite well:

“It seems to be such a promising solution of our apologetic difficulties just to say that science and religion belong in two entirely different spheres and can never by any chance come into conflict.  It seems to be so easy for religion to purchase peace by abandoning to science the whole sphere of facts in order to retain for itself merely a sphere of feelings and ideals.”

“But in reality these tactics are quite disastrous.  You effect thus a strategic retreat; you retreat into …an inner line of defense whence you think that science can never dislodge you.  You get down into your pragamtist dugout and listen comfortably to the muffled sound of the warfare being carried on above by those who are old-fashioned enough to be interested in truth; you think that whatever creedal changes, whatever intellectual battle there may be, you at least are safe.  You have your Christian experience, and let science and biblical criticism do what they will!”

“But do not comfort yourself.  The enemy in this warfare is good at mopping up captured trenches; he has in his mechanistic psychologists a very efficient mopping up squad.  He will soon drive you out of your refuge; he will destroy whatever decency and liberty you thought you had retained; and you will discover, too late, that the battle is now lost, and that your only real hope lay not into retreating into some anti-intellectualistic dugout but in fighting bravely to prevent the initial capture of the trench.”

“No, the battle between naturalism and supernaturalism, between mechanism and liberty, has to be fought sooner or later; and I do not believe that there is any advantage in letting the enemy choose the ground upon which it shall be fought.  The strongest defense of the Christian religion is the outer defense; a reduced and inconsistent Christianity is weak; our real safety lies in the exultant supernaturalism of God’s Word.”

Exactly.  Abandoning the facts of the faith (like the flood, the exodus, the wilderness wanderings, the monarchy, the miracles of Christ, his death and resurrection, etc.) may seem like a peaceful move, but it only exposes one to the head-on assaults of Satan.  Machen is right: “Our real safety lies in the exultant supernaturalism of God’s Word,” which gives the historical, factual accounts of God’s supernatural intervention to redeem his people from sin through Christ’s cross.  Under that banner, the Christian can bravely fight the battle!

The above quote is found on page 362 of Machen’s Shorter Writings.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

 

The Resurrection as Hoax?

I read this book last year and really appreciated it: Jesus and the Logic of History by Paul Barnett.  Recently, as I was skimming through it again, I found the following section where Barnett helpfully talks about the resurrection of Christ and the various theories of it (e.g. the disciples stole the body, Jesus wasn’t really dead but revived in the tomb, or that they crucified the wrong person by mistake):

The view held by many contemporary scholars, that the disciples were subject to some kind of visionary experiences, is hard to accept.  Two people sharing one bed seldom have the same dream.  The proposal that between five and six hundred people on twelve or so separate occasions over forty days had the same visionary experience is extremely unlikely.

In any case ‘resurrection from the dead’, a Jewish concept, literally means, ‘standing up in the midst of corpses’ (anastasis nekron).  A resurrection which was not bodily is self-contradictory and has ben likened to a circle which is square.  The various subjective or visionary theories of the resurrection are culturally contradictory.

Here’s how Barnett ends this section:

There is only one serious alternative explanation.  It is that the disciples stole the body and proclaimed Jesus to have been raised from the dead.  In other words, it was a deception, a hoax.  A number of objections may be raised against this hypothesis.  Apart from the unlikelihood that the perpetrators would call a gospel based on deceit the ‘word of truth’ and repeatedly call for truthful behavior among believers, such a theory is difficult to reconcile with subsequent apostolic history.

Through the pages of the New Testament we are able to trace the ministries of Peter, James and Paul, the leaders of various mission groups, from the time of the resurrection to their martyr-deaths.  This is a period of about three decades.  It is implausible that all three would have maintained the deception throughout those years and then gone to their deaths without exposing a hoax.  Moreover, there was more than a little friction between these men.  Had the resurrection not been true, it is likely that one or other of these strong personalities would have broken ranks to expose the others.

Paul Barnett, Jesus and the Logic of History, p. 130-131.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI