A year ago, my wife surprised me with news that we were pregnant. I was overjoyed and the next few days were like Christmas morning over and over again. A month later, we lost our child. Times like this bring up questions about God's goodness and why God allows these things to happen. This is something beyond attempting to prove that God does not exist because of evil. This is believing there is a God and He doesn't care.
We often wonder what possible good can come from something evil that has happened to us or people we know and love. This weekend, we lost a friend and colleague, Nabeel Qureshi, to stomach cancer. The impact Nabeel has had on so many causes us to question why God chose him at this time?
The story of Ruth is one that has been taught to Christians emphasizing her meeting Boaz. Boaz was what was known in Israelite culture as a "Kinsman Redeemer". This was a man who was responsible for helping a relative in times of trouble. To help rescue person or property. This is a clear picture of what Jesus has done for the human race by dying on a cross as a ransom for our crimes against a Holy God. But there's something else in the story. The story of Ruth begins with a drought in Israel. Elimelech, his wife Naomi and their two sons Mahlon [meaning Sickness] and Chilion [meaning Annihilator] departed Bethlehem for Moab. The two sons took Moabite wives - Orpah and Ruth.
While there, Elimelech died. 10 years later, Naomi's two sons also died leaving Naomi and her two daughters in law. Orpah returned to her people in Moab, but Ruth left with Naomi to return to Bethlehem in Judah. It was here that she met Boaz - a relative of Naomi. A day came where Naomi was selling her land. With this land would come Ruth. Boaz redeemed the land and took Ruth as a wife. In time, Ruth gave birth to Obed who then had a son named Jesse. Jesse had a son named David from whose line the Messiah would come.
But notice the tragedy that befell Ruth and Naomi. The drought drove Elimelech to take his family from Bethlehem to Moab where he and his two sons died leaving them widows and without any male to work the land. But if Elimelech had not gone to Moab, his son would not have married Ruth. If Elimelech and Ruth's husband had not died, she and Naomi would not have returned to Bethlehem where Boaz redeemed Ruth and from who's line Jesus was born.
What we can see is that even though we do not see the end of the story, we must ask the question is it possible for God to have a morally just reason to allow evil in our lives? From this story - and many others in the Bible - we see God using tragedy to bring about good. This does not mean that God caused the evil. But God can use an event such as this to bring about a good result.
"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." - Romans 8:28
Notice that Paul does not say that all things are good, but rather all things work together for good, for those who are called.
When we are faced with the unthinkable, we can hold on to the fact that God does have a reason to allow it. We may never know the reason until we see God face to face, but there is a reason. CS Lewis wrote that God screams at us in our pain. God uses this to speak to us all the more boldly.
Nabeel effected so many lives in his preaching but even more in his illness. The grace with which he faced his illness was more than inspiring. Personally, he affected not so much my apologetic, but how I should live my life before God. And he gave the best illustration of the Trinity I'd ever heard. He will continue to make an impact here even after his death and we can take comfort knowing that he has met his redeemer.
This past July, my wife and I welcomed our second child into this world. A baby girl named Bridget. He is our redeemer as well.
The past decade has seen a Renaissance in Christian Apologetics. This movement began decades before with the work of men like Francis Schaeffer, Josh McDowell, Ravi Zacharias, and William Lane Craig. Now, average Christians are taking up the mantle of the apologist and are giving good reasons for the truth of Christianity and answering objections to it.
But with this resurgence, the Church is still mostly resistant to apologetics. But why is this the case? Former Cold Case Detective, J. Warner Wallace, notices this trend when coming to churches to speak:
"I am blessed by opportunities to make the case for Christianity every weekend in churches across the nation. As a result, however, I get to see how many of my Christian brothers and sisters are interested in the evidence supporting their faith. I must tell you, the interest in Christian case making is thin, at best. In a typical church, about ten percent of the congregation is usually concerned enough about “apologetics” to attend a training session or conference. My fellow speakers and traveling case makers report the same interest wherever they go, and if you are among the few Christians who are actively studying or making the case, you know what I am talking about first-hand. "
Many people feel they are just not intellectually equipped to learn apologetics. It's something that does require time and study. But if we approach apologetics the way we do other things in our lives, we can learn to present a well reasoned faith. And each one of us can present these arguments in our own way to help communicate well to people who have questions or objections.
But there are those who feel that apologetics itself is a wrong approach and not needed.
One response I often hear myself is "we just need to preach the simple Gospel". One well known speaker stated that "when you are sitting across from a person... using intellectual arguments.. facts about history, illustrations, all sorts of things, you're not proclaiming "Thus Saith The LORD". There's not the power of simply going to scripture".
Is he correct? Is the Bible against giving reasoned arguments for Christianity? If I do go to scripture, I find the following passages:
"but honor the Messiah as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you." 1 Peter 3:15
"Dear friends, although I was eager to write you about the salvation we share, I found it necessary to write and exhort you to contend for the faith that was delivered to the saints once for all" Jude v 3
"Conduct yourself with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person" - Colossians 4:5-6
"If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” John 10:37-38
"For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ" 2 Corinthians 10:3-5
It is clear from scripture that giving a reasoned, evidential answer to the questions raised against and about Christianity is commanded.
We should always preach the Gospel, but I wonder if some see the act of preaching as speaking an incantation over someone calling upon the power of God to supersede their free will and make them a believer in Christ. The power of the Gospel is the power to save those who would put their trust in Christ's finished work on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. But this power is not in the pronouncement.
Jesus said "..Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God." John 3:18
This is immediately after John 3:16. The Gospel is not magic, but is the truth proclaimed. We live in a post modern world where truth is considered to be relative. So, we must be ready to meet each person where they live.
As Francis Schaeffer noted:
"As we get ready to tell the person God's answer to his or her need, we must make sure that the individual understands that we are talking about real truth, and not about something vaguely religious which seems to work psychologically. We must make sure that he understands that we are talking about real guilt before God, and we are not offering him merely relief for his guilt-feelings. We must make sure that he understands that we are talking to him about history, and that the death of Jesus was not just an ideal or a symbol but a fact of space and time. If we are talking to a person who would not understand the term "space-time history" we can say: "Do you believe that Jesus died in the sense that if you had been there that day, you could have rubbed your finger on the cross and got a splinter in it?" Until he understands the importance of these three things, he is not ready to become a Christian.
Francis, Schaeffer (1982). The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer A Christian Worldview. Chicago, IL: Crossway Books. ISBN 978-0-89107-236-2.
I still remember the first apologetics small group I ever led. I was pumped at finally being able to share with other Christians at my church why Christianity was true and rational.
I chose my curriculum carefully after some research and what I settled on was an offering from the apologist who got me started, Ravi Zacharias. I chose RZIM's Foundations of Apologetics DVD course which was quite an investment for a single guy. This had me so excited. We were going to hear lectures and take notes from some of the greatest apologists in the world. People like John Lennox, Alistair McGrath, Stuart McAllister, Amy Orr Ewing and Ravi himself!
I had previewed the DVDs and soaked up every minute of it. And then came the first night.... and the second... and the third... and.... the class was bored. Turns out that listening to 55 min lectures by Oxford professors was just not speaking to my group.
What I learned from that experience was that what an apologetics nerd like me finds enjoyable doesn't necessarily excite the average Joe.
Many times, we as apologists tend to forget that God has gifted us with the ability to teach and lead in apologetics. As such, we are more apt to enjoy reading Ireneaus' Against Heresies or GK Chesterton's Orthodoxy. But Bob, one of our class members, is doing all he can to understand the self refuting statements we talked about the previous night.
In leading, we need to be mindful of our audience. If you have a group full of academically minded people, then something like my aforementioned study may be perfect. If you have a cross section of average folks, perhaps using The Case for Christ may be more realistic as they can relate to Lee Strobel's story of researching the truth of Christianity for himself.
In our zeal to bring apologetics teaching to our local church, we have to remember that not everyone will be as enthusiastic as we are and that this is very unfamiliar territory for most. So whether we are using a prepared course or are formulating our own curriculum, we need to make sure it has a broad appeal so that everyone will have the ability to learn something.
I recently started a new group at my home church. We are using Frank Turek's I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist and it was a hit. Everyone loves Frank.
I would like to ask this person what they mean by “Biblical Literalism”. This is such a loaded term and can mean so much to so many. But given the context of his three words, I will be assuming the view that the events described in the Bible as actual events are to be taken literally.
The first issue is that this is a straw man argument as there is an implied suggestion that Christianity is promoting the idea that snakes speak as a matter of natural occurrence. I’ve never known any Christians who are promoting this idea and the event itself is a supernatural one which is not present in normal, natural conditions.
However, this passage from Genesis 3 depicts Satan as taking the form of a serpent and deceiving Eve. Satan has been described in many ways throughout the Bible including as being a dragon. But Christians are not suggesting that dragons are real any more than suggesting that unicorns are real. But it isn't just a talking snake in Genesis, there is another recorded instance in the Bible where an animal speaks.
The story of Balaam’s donkey is an event in Numbers where God sends an angel to stop Balaam on his way to curse the nation of Israel on the behalf of the Moabites.
“But God was incensed that Balaam was going, and the Angel of the Lord took His stand on the path to oppose him. Balaam was riding his donkey, and his two servants were with him. When the donkey saw the Angel of the Lord standing on the path with a drawn sword in His hand, she turned off the path and went into the field. So, Balaam hit her to return her to the path. Then the Angel of the Lord stood in a narrow passage between the vineyards, with a stone wall on either side. The donkey saw the Angel of the Lord and pressed herself against the wall, squeezing Balaam’s foot against it. So he hit her once again. The Angel of the Lord went ahead and stood in a narrow place where there was no room to turn to the right or the left. When the donkey saw the Angel of the Lord, she crouched down under Balaam. So he became furious and beat the donkey with his stick.
Then the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth, and she asked Balaam, “What have I done to you that you have beaten me these three times?” Numbers 22:21-39 HCSB
It is clear from this passage that a speaking donkey is not a normal, natural occurrence and would be considered a miracle. God caused the donkey to be able to speak. This does not mean that the Bible or Christianity is suggesting that donkeys can talk.
This brings us to problem number two which is the main undergirding of the objection. Most skeptics will assert that the supernatural is not possible and that an appeal as such is not falsifiable. Falsifiability, however, is related to a scientific inquiry. The supernatural, by definition, is not something testable by science as science deals with the natural world. You can use science to falsify a specific supernatural claim (for example, a person claims to be healed from cancer, but medical records show they were never diagnosed with cancer, etc.), but science cannot show the supernatural to be false in principle. So, other tools must be used. Some skeptics argue for methodological naturalism stating that science is barred from investigating the supernatural. But this is not the case. Science can study the effects of the supernatural on the natural world. With enough effects, one could make a rational inference as to the cause and if, given the evidence, it is more reasonable for the cause to be supernatural, then such a claim could be made even if the everyday experience of the average person does not include supernatural occurrences.
Given these reasons, the three-word argument “Snakes Don’t Talk” fails to ‘debunk’ Biblical Literalism in a broad sense and more over fails to show that the supernatural is a less reasonable explanation for the events described in the biblical narratives.
One objection that is still prevalent on the internet and in some atheist circles is the idea that Jesus is just a copy cat god. That His story is just a repeating of ancient god-man myths from history such as Osiris, Mythras, etc.
This mostly comes from an internet film called "Zeitgeist" and this theory has been refuted a number of times by scholars both secular and theistic. A cursory examination of these so called copy cats reveal very little if any resemblance to the account of Jesus of Nazareth.
But, let's assume for a moment that those stories are similar. Does that mean that Jesus is merely a copy of those stories and never existed?
I do not believe this to be the case and there is historical evidence that can demonstrate this as a non sequitur.
Everyone has heard of the ocean liner that couldn't be sunk even by God Himself that hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic in April and sunk with the majority of its passengers dying in the frigid waters. The ship was the RMS Tit... Titan. That's right, the Titan. The Titan was the name of an ocean liner in the fictional novel Futility a.k.a. The Wreck of the Titan. This novel was written in 1890 by Morgan Robertson and the name was changed from Futility after the Titanic sank.
While this is quite an eerie coincidence, what kind of similarities can we find between the Titan and the Titanic?
Now, given this, do we consider the Titanic sinking to be a myth copied from other ancient myths? Certainly not. But why? It's because of the eyewitness accounts and the historical records. We can also go out to the North Atlantic and visit the Titanic's wreck.
As we can clearly see, just because other older myths exist with similarities to Christ, it does not follow that the account of Jesus of Nazareth is itself just another myth copied from older ones. And while this objection will probably continue to resurface, we can refute such claims both from the actual mythical accounts and from the facts that do not follow from the objection.