Posts Tagged ‘Christian apologetics’

Deeper Waters Podcast 5/17/2014: Randy Richards

May 15, 2014

What’s coming up this Saturday on the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

One of the great mistakes I often see us doing with Scripture is reading it as if it was written for our audience in modern language and terminology and with our culture specifically in mind. This can lead to many errors when reading the Bible. Fortunately, there’s a great book out that deals with these errors called “Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes.”

And fortunately, one of the co-authors of that book, Randy Richards, is going to be my guest this Saturday on the Deeper Waters Podcast. Who is he? His faculty page describes him in this way:

richards 1

“Dr. Randy Richards loves training students for ministry, both domestically and internationally. He has been teaching since 1986, originally at a state university and then abroad at an Indonesian seminary. Upon returning to the States, Dr. Richards served at two Christian universities before joining Palm Beach Atlantic University as the dean of the School of Ministry in 2006.

His wife Stacia has joyfully accompanied him from jungles of Indonesia to rice fields in Arkansas to beautiful South Florida. They have two fine sons: Josh (Ph.D. 2012, University of St. Andrews, Scotland), a university professor in English, and Jacob (Ph.D. 2014, College of Medicine, University of Florida), a medical researcher.

Dr. Richards has authored or co-authored five books and dozens of articles. He recently published Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes with Brandon O’Brien (InterVarsity, 2012); “Reading, Writing, and the Production and Transmission of Manuscripts” in The Background of the New Testament: An Examination of the Context of Early Christianity (Baker, 2013); “Will the Real Author Please Stand Up? The Author in Greco-Roman Letter Writing” in Come Let Us Reason: New Essays in Christian Apologetics (B&H, 2012); “Pauline Prescripts and Greco-Roman Epistolary Convention” in Christian Origins and Classical Culture: Social and Literary Contexts for the New Testament (Brill, 2012); and a dozen articles in The Baker Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Baker, 2013).

This year, he is finishing a new textbook, Rediscovering Jesus, and another popular book, Paul Behaving Badly, both with InterVarsity Press. He is also completing chapters in two other books.

Dr. Richards is a popular lecturer, speaker and preacher, recently in places as diverse as Wycliffe Hall (Oxford), Kathmandu, and Kenya. He was a Senior Scholar at the IRLBR Summer Summit at Tyndale House (Cambridge) in 2013. He regularly conducts missionary training workshops, and currently serves as a teaching pastor at Grace Fellowship Church in West Palm Beach.”

Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes is the kind of book I wish every Christian would read. It would prevent a multitude of errors and while love covers over a multitude of sins, accurate knowledge covers and prevents a multitude of errors.

I hope you’ll be listening in then this Saturday from 3-5 PM EST. This is going to be an important show. As always, we will be able to take your questions if you wish to call in. The number will be 714-242-5180. I hope that you’ll be taking advantage of getting to hear a scholar speak on this important issue.

The link can be found here.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Core Facts

May 14, 2014

What do I think of Braxton Hunter’s book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Braxton Hunter is a professor of Christian apologetics who holds a PH.D. in the same field. He’s recently written a book called “Core Facts” written to not just give a good start to apologetics, but it also is a kind of teaching guide to help others learn how to do apologetics.

The presentation that Hunter presents surrounds his “core facts.” The list is as follows:

C – Cause of the universe
O – Order of the universe
R – Rules of morality
E – Experience of God

F – Fatality of Jesus’s death on the cross
A – Appearances of Jesus to the disciples.
C – Commitment level of the disciples
T – Testimony of the disciples
S – Salvation taught through the Gospel.

Now granted there are some here that I would not use. At the start with the cause and order of the universe, the scientific arguments are cited, but this is something that gets me wondering at times. Is it because I am opposed to science? Not at all! Is it because I am opposed to scientific apologetics? Again, not at all! It is because I have this fear that too often we make the case scientific and I want to make sure that those of us who do have taken the time to learn the sciences not just for apologetics purposes but general purposes. This is the reason why I do not use scientific apologetics. I am not a scientist (And I don’t play one on TV) and I do not want to speak in a field that is not my area.

I also am cautious about the idea of the experience of God. The problem is that experience is not an on-demand kind of thing and to this day, when Bill Craig gives his fifth way in a debate of knowing that God exists, I still cringe.

For the last group, I think in this day and age I would replace fatal with something like “Fact of Jesus’s existence.” There are more people who are Christ-mythers today than there are people who hold to the swoon theory.

For C, I would have probably gone with the idea of conversion, such as that of James and Paul. Why is it that those who were skeptical of the faith were the ones who later on joined it? They had nothing to gain and everything to lose. After all, C and T sounded awfully similar to me at times.

And as for S, an excellent ending would have been shamefulness of Christianity. It is too often overlooked that in the honor-shame context of the ancient Mediterranean world, Christianity was a shameful belief and that that belief not only survived in the face of persecution and shaming but also came to dominate is something that needs to be explained.

Still, the areas that Hunter does present, he does very well on. I was also pleased to hear him say that evolution is not a battle that we have to fight. Very few apologists make such a statement, but I agree entirely with Hunter. I would not argue it unless one was skilled in the sciences and making a purely scientific argument for or against. I only wish he’d gone further on this point and said that we can also go with an eternal universe or a multiverse and Christianity is still safe.

A bonus also is that Hunter does have tips at the end of each section for how to transition the material to a teaching presentation. This makes this kind of book ideal for a leader to use when teaching a class. There are several sidebars as well that provide more detailed information and Hunter has indeed read both sides of the issue.

If there’s one section though that contains poor argumentation, it’s the last one where Hunter has a debate that he did with the owner of an atheist forum who simply goes by the name “Will.” To be sure, the poor argumentation is not on the side of Hunter. It is on the side of Will. As I read this section I found myself repeatedly face-palming. It is embarrassing to see the arguments so many atheists use. Will uses everything from an insistence on YEC and Inerrancy, to a lack of understanding of biblical texts (Judges 21 has God commanding rape? Please find the command from God in there! It’s in fact showing what it was like when Israel was NOT following God.), to a Boghossian understanding of what faith is, and then going so far as to be a Christ-myther. (It should sadly be for the atheist community that they would want to get the Christ-mythers to be quiet. Instead, they champion them. Reality is there are more Ph.D. scientists who hold to a young-earth than there are Ph.D.’s in ancient and NT history that hold to the Christ myth theory. I also for clarification am not a YEC.)

Hunter answer very well, but the fact that Will is a preacher’s kid shows how bad a job is being done in educating the youth of our church. That anyone would think that these are serious arguments being put forward is a travesty. Now of course there are serious arguments atheism can put forward, but many used today are ones that should not be given the time of day. (And of course sadly, the same applies to many Christian arguments.)

In conclusion, while I don’t agree with everything Hunter says, naturally, I could recommend his book as a good resource to a starting apologetics class at a local church. It will become one that can easily be taught and easily discussed and the debate at the end should show how well the Core Facts can stand up to scrutiny. It is a work I could use myself. Braxton Hunter’s “Core Facts” has my endorsement.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A Further Reply to Randy Hardman

March 14, 2014

Is there a danger in the apologetics community? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

In a previous blog this week I wrote a reply to Randy Hardman on the nature of the apologetics community. Now I wish to look at part two and part three of Hardman’s series.

One characteristic I note is that in part one, Hardman told us a lot about his own experience. I did the same. Yet when I look at part two and three I see Hardman telling us more about his own experience. Now naturally, he’ll know more about that than anyone else, but I wonder what interaction was being done with the evangelical community?

For instance, at the most recent ETS meeting, the entire theme of the conference was Inerrancy. It was discussion largely about what it means for evangelicals to believe in Inerrancy and what Inerrancy is including having a book released around the same time on five views on Inerrancy. I do not see any awareness of this on Hardman’s part.

Going back a few years, what about the Geisler controversy, which readers of this blog know I was quite well aware of and wrote profusely on. I do not see any mention in the writings of Hardman on any of that. I do not see him acknowledge that many evangelicals would say while they hold to Inerrancy, it is not a necessity for salvation.

Hardman writes in part two about faith as science. He includes this line:

“For every atheist that’s incorrigibly committed to the truth of his philosophical naturalism there is an evangelical incorrigibly committed to his theism in such a way that neither one lacks the need to feel absolutely certain.”

Now I do not doubt that such evangelicals exist, but I would like to have seen some interaction with who these people are. Furthermore, what is this about absolute certainty? I think of how Peter Boghossian has written about dialoguing with an OT professor who said it would take finding the bones of Christ to make him abandon his faith.

Of course, there are myriad problems with this, such as how you would identify the bones. (Perhaps they would have a unique DNA make-up due to a virgin birth) That is why I have made it my claim instead to say that one needs a better explanation of the data surrounding the rise of the belief in Jesus’s resurrection and the early church’s survival.

Also, as those who study history will tell you, including Mike Licona in his book “The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach”, history deals with probabilities. You cannot prove X necessarily with history, but you can say beyond any reasonable doubt. Can we absolutely prove that Alexander the Great conquered the world? No. Would you have to be completely clueless on history to think otherwise? Yes.

Hardman goes on to say

“For these evangelicals, conviction leaves no room for doubt, and so in popular Christian apologetics doubt is something to be assuaged with answers.”

Again, I wish I knew what evangelicals were being talked about. If he wanted to talk about doubt, why not refer to who I have referred to before in part one, namely Gary Habermas. Habermas is an evangelical who has written more about doubt than most in the field have.

Habermas classifies three kinds of doubt. For the kind of doubt that Hardman is writing about here, intellectual doubt, yes, an answer to the question will satisfy it. What happens if the answer does not satisfy? Then one could be dealing with a different kind of doubt.

The #1 culprit is emotional doubt. This doubt is the kind that usually asks the question of “What if?” It can often disguise itself as intellectual doubt but the major difference between it and intellectual doubt is emotional doubt is never satisfied and for many of us, if we were thinking rationally, we would not be worried about it.

Let me give a personal example. Shortly after I got married, I had a bad case of gallstones and it was decided that I should have my gallbladder removed. Now I had had anesthesia before as I am no stranger to surgery, but this time I was scared. I have a wife now! What if I go under and never come out? How will she handle it? What will happen?

Allie thought I was being crazy about such fears.

She was right.

Yeah. It could happen, but is it really something to be concerned about? You could show me all the statistics in the world and my position was not changing. It was entirely emotional in nature. The problem in this case is unruly emotions and you need to find a way to get those emotions in check.

The other kind of doubt is the worst kind to deal with. This is volitional doubt. These are people who not only do not believe, they have firmly decided they will not believe and no evidence could convince them. (Think of certain people who write books about training street epistemologists and encouraging practicing “doxastic openness” as an example of this.)

I still would like to know who these people are. Gary Habermas again gets before audiences with his minimal facts approach and says he’ll use only the data that liberal scholars will concede and still have it that Jesus rose from the dead. There is no requirement for Inerrancy. There are some who do not have a problem with evolution. Some do, but they will also dispute it on scientific grounds. Are the arguments valid? I can’t answer that, but I can say that is the way to dispute evolution if one wants to.

Hardman is right that Inerrancy being central is a problem. I cringe to think of the student who says “If John is wrong on how Jesus died, maybe everything else is wrong too!” I think of the guest on Unbelievable? once who was presenting a contradiction of how Judas died to the Christian guest and was saying that if we can’t be sure of the Bible on this point, what basis do we have for believing in something like the crucifixion?

I don’t know. Maybe history….

There is only one document in ancient history that people seem to have this all-or-nothing approach to and that’s the Bible. If the Bible is wrong on one thing, it must be wrong on everything. If it is right on one thing, it must be right on everything. No historian would treat the Bible this way. The fundamentalist Christian and the fundamentalist atheist sadly treat the Bible the exact same way.

Too many Christians have this attitude that the only way we can know what happened historically is if we treat the Bible as Inerrant. It is a wonder how the first evangelists of the Christian Gospel somehow spread the word without an Inerrant Bible. It’s also a wonder how they convinced anyone else since they would have to be convinced of Inerrancy first.

Now to be fair, there are events we’d have a harder time verifying, but this is true of any report in history. Can we prove that Cato or Caesar or someone else said something at a particular time? Not likely. Can we make a stronger case for more important events in their lives, such as that Caesar crossed the Rubicon or that he was assassinated on the Ides of March? Yes.

So when it comes to Jesus, the resurrection is central. We can make a stronger case for that. Can we make as strong a case that He was born of a virgin? No. Can we make as strong a case that he turned water into wine? No. I’m fine with that.

Hardman also talks about the great risk involved with the question of “If evolution is true, is Christianity false?”

I do not know what the great risk he sees in this is. It was a conclusion I reached years ago and I’m still able to even hold to Inerrancy just fine. I just determined that I’m not a scientist and I do not have the time or desire to really focus on the science questions as my area of study is the NT, so I’m fine with just letting it be. In fact, as a Thomist, my arguments for God’s existence are not rooted in the origins of the universe or the creation of man, but in the doctrine of existence itself.

Hardman goes on to say

“It is trust, not data, that allows one to wrestle through the night with God, through the unanswerable, and, indeed, the irrational. It allowed me to approach questions differently and it allowed me, a couple months later, to re-examine my own life and concede what was true: I didn’t know Christ as much as I knew about him.”

And this is Hardman’s experience. I can write about my own as well and say for me, it has been the knowledge that Jesus did rise from the dead that has sustained me in my times. I just sit back and look at the evidence and realize that this is true. Who else has done this? Greg Koukl. In his series on surviving spiritual storms, he says that whenever he wakes up scared that maybe it isn’t true, he thinks about the facts.

After all, if we could control our feelings that easily, then we would wake up scared and just tell ourselves “Don’t be scared” and then go right back to sleep. I don’t think that’s going to happen. I know that when I have nights when I’m worried about something and try to tell myself to relax, I usually do a terrible job.

So now we have Hardman’s experience. We also have mine and Koukl. Question. Why should we take Hardman’s experience to be the one for all of us? Second question. Why should we take mine and Koukl’s experience to be the one for all of us? It could depend largely on what kind of doubt it is that you’re dealing with.

As we move to part three, we find more of the same from Hardman.

“This post still deals with what I find to be a strange irony in the discipline of apologetics, namely, the insistence on a “rational and well thought out” faith with the insistence on upholding scriptural inerrancy and creationism.”

And again, where is the interaction with ETS? Where is the interaction with Five Views on Inerrancy? What about the Geisler controversy? Is there in fact any interaction with one of the latest works that I think should not be neglected, The Lost World of Scripture, by Sandy and Walton?

Nope.

Hardman says

“It is my conviction that when we insist that young people have to choose between evolution and God or the critical results of scholarship and faith, we are not at all helping students overcome some of the intellectual barriers and questions they might have. Rather, we contribute to the swath of students who find Christianity to be opposed to reason.”

I agree, but this is not entirely revolutionary. Hardman writes about the problem, but what about the data? Does he interact with it? Does he consider a work such as “You Lost Me” about how so many people are walking away? Now naturally, I think some of this is because of the lack of apologetics training, but it is also definitely just as important how we teach people and that means focusing on the essentials.

Hardman goes on to relate an experience that demonstrates the problem:

As I was currently enrolled in a Biblical Studies program at Asbury Theological Seminary, he posed me a question: “Randy, what do you think? Did Luke and Matthew use Mark as a source?” I don’t really know what answer he expected from me but I just looked at him and said, “Absolutely! That’s pretty near consensus in NT scholarship…I don’t see any reason to doubt it!”

My friends eyes widened as he sat back in his seat, threw his hands up in the air, and said, “No, no, no…They didn’t use Mark as a source. That’s just a theory promoted by the Devil and populated through Bultmannian scholarship.”

As it stands, this other person doesn’t even realize that this kind of thing goes back far farther than Bultmann. Now how will this be answered? It will be answered with data. The sad reality is that Hardman wants us to avoid an extreme, but has he himself not gone for an extreme just as much? His argument goes that we assume creationism and Inerrancy must be central, but could it be that he in fact has assumed that that is assumed?

In fact, I and many other apologists follow the model when we debate, such as on Peter Boghossian’s Facebook page, that our data is that which comes from the best scholarship in the field. This is in fact the position of evangelical scholars themselves! Go listen to any of them! I have had several show up on my podcast and they’re very often talking about scholarship. If you read their books, just note the bibliographies and how much scholarship they interact with.

Hardman goes on to say the same about a young-earther with a PH.D. who chose to commit himself to the Bible instead of The Origin of Species.

Hardman says

“The problem, as you are probably suspecting, is this: When we caricature Christianity by such narrow boundaries, we run the risk of making Christianity anti-intellectual. Even more dangerous, however, is that when we promote views like these in the vein of “apologetics” and “Christian intellectualism” we run the risk of making our intellectual Christianity anti-intellectual.”

The sad aspect here is that it looks like Hardman is just as guilty of this caricature. This could be disputed, but unfortunately no evangelical scholars are cited to show that this is the position of evangelical scholarship. How can evangelical scholarship view it inimical to interact with scholarship when it itself interacts with scholarship?

In conclusion, as I finish Hardman’s case, I wonder where he has been. Here he is wanting to say “We shouldn’t be marrying Christianity to doctrine X” when so many evangelicals beforehand have been saying the exact same thing. This is not new.

Note also that as pointed out, there is a lack of interaction with evangelical scholarship. It is quite interesting to hear the evangelical community being told its doing something wrong and yet where do we see the data? What scholars are being cited?

I conclude the problem is not apologetics once again. It is us. It is part in fact of an American mindset approaching the text. It is a fundamentalism that got a grip of our culture and unfortunately we’ve let it maintain its grip, and this mindset is held by atheists and Christians a lot. (Note that Craig Evans describes Ehrman as being on a flight from fundamentalism.)

The solution is really moderation in all things. Apologetics is not the problem. Pride can exist in any field whatsoever. You could have the lowliest job on the planet and still have to struggle with pride. The problem is the people that are involved and the way that we are training our youth today. (In fact, I have a good friend who went to a highly fundamentalist Bible College and is now having to rethink and unthink so much of what he “learned.” I’ve been fortunate to be able to help him, but I also wonder what if he knew of no one who had wrestled with these questions before?)

I can’t help but think about the 1 Timothy 3 admonition about requirements for leadership.

No doubt, the same should apply to the apologetics community.

In Christ,
Nick Peters