Posts Tagged ‘Peter Enns’

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

On Being A Current Apologist: A Response To Randy Hardman

March 12, 2014

What are some realities of the life of the apologist? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Randy Hardman has made some waves lately with an article that can be found here. I read it last night as a friend sent it to me so we could all discuss it. As you can imagine, many of my friends are apologists in the field.

Perhaps I should start with how I got in the field. For me, it was when I was on AOL and doing internet evangelism. Before too long, I realized I needed to have something to say to atheists that came in. I was just useless there.

Now there was a guy I had seen at Bible College one time studying apologetics. I asked him what it was and he told me. I filed it away. That memory came back when I was discussing this with an online friend. He recommended I read More Than A Carpenter. It was a good read, and I got started using it that night. Then I remembered a book I heard about called The Case For Christ.

I consider that the book that lit my fire.

And before too long, I was coming home constantly with books. My mother was in a panic wondering where she was going to put them all. I was playing video games less and reading more and seeking to learn more. Also, the depression and panic attacks I’d struggled with for the past few years were going away.

Now this isn’t to say I wasn’t without problems still. I am an Aspie after all and there will always be limitations because of that. My diet was still incredibly unusual being highly limited and I still had a social awkwardness around me. I often tell people that one of the best parallels you can see for someone like me is Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory.

But I had a passion. I had a way I could use my mind and serve God at the same time. Why had no one ever told me about this before? I enjoyed the exchange of ideas and the debates that went on and to this day, I still do.

I want you to keep all of that in mind as we go through this.

This is not to say I am unaware of the danger of pride. In fact, I’ve taken steps to avoid that. One great step I’ve taken really helps, although I cannot say I took this step for the purpose of avoiding pride, but it’s a nice side-effect. It’s called “Getting married.” Allie loves me dearly, something that amazes me, but she does not love a man who is prideful. If I want to be the man who brings a smile to her face, I have to be a humble man.

Another important step I’ve taken is having mentors. One in particular is a man in the field I email every night and share with him how my day has gone, what my struggles are, and that I’ve prayed. To be fair, prayer is not something easy for me. It’s hard for me to focus. I say what I need to say and then go about my day. I start off my morning first by reading a chapter from both testaments and then praying about what I’ve read. I love my wife, but I don’t even kiss her in the morning until I’ve done my time with God. In the evening as I go to bed, I read a few verses from a Psalm now and think about it as I go to bed and ask myself questions about the text and pray some about it too.

If I receive a criticism, I will often pass it on to mentors and say “Do you think there is any truth to this? Do I have something to work on?” These are also people who I know will shoot me straight. They’re not going to sugar coat things for me.

Now to be fair, I do like receiving compliments and personally, who wouldn’t? I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. We should be thankful when people say good things about us and our work and really mean it. An important step I take however is that many of those compliments, you will never hear about unless they’re made publicly. The only people I tell usually are my wife, my parents, and her parents. These are the people who are already impressed with what I do. In fact, they want me to celebrate such good messages with them.

At the same time, I do realize in this field that you do have to do some work to get yourself out there. That’s why I have a page on my blog with endorsements that I have received. After all, if I hope to speak at churches regularly, I want the people to know that I am someone who has done serious work in this field and why they should be open to having me.

I can say there are areas I struggle with. For instance, Allie and I went to see Son of God recently. It’s a good movie, but honestly, I’m not moved much by Jesus movies. I don’t know why it is. It could be my Aspie personality. I find myself much more moved by a good book on the historical Jesus that brings out to me who Jesus really is. If I get a new insight into how to read the Bible or a theme that Jesus taught, that holds me in far more awe. Yet I do look at my lack of full delight at the movies and think “Is it a lack of love on my part for God?” I won’t deny, of course, as Allie and I have talked about this, that we all do lack some in our love of God. We can all bear to improve and no doubt, none of us realizes really the extent of the forgiveness we have been given.

There are times being an apologist can be hard. It can be difficult when you’re about to go do something that you want to do and here comes someone with a question and you know, you have to help them out at the time. They really need it. You have to learn to put your own desires on the back burner and fulfill your duty to serve others first. (This is a hard lesson to learn in marriage also when it’s easy to think that you can’t always get what you want first or do what you want first.)

One of the worst stigmas to deal with also is the sense of being unappreciated. As an apologist, I know very well how important what I do is. I have a great sorrow when I hear people talk about those who have fallen away from Christ. It’s saddening. It gets worse when you go to so many churches and offer to serve them and speak or do a class and do it free of charge and get told “Nah. We don’t really need that now.”

Because every time you know they do.

It’s hard when you walk around in a public place and you wonder how many people are Christians and think “Do you know how many bullets are being taken for you every day?” I think it could be compared to police officers and military men who can often be portrayed as villains. We in the apologetics community especially can because since we prize knowledge so much, well we just think we’re smarter than everyone else and don’t we all know that we’re just supposed to have faith? What’s with all this talk about facts?

Money makes this even worse. My wife and I have to depend on others so much just to survive and thus, you can imagine the indignation I can feel when I watched the TV earlier this year and saw announcements about Joel and Victoria Osteen coming to Knoxville to speak. I think tickets were $35 a pop. I meanwhile go to the grocery store and know I have to be extra extra stingy because there is so little to be spent on groceries and have to consistently tell my bride that I can’t get her something she’d like as much as I want to.

If you think I’m talking about having wealth like the Osteens, I’m not. I care about having enough that Allie and I can make it easily enough. Perhaps do something special together every now and then as well. I never want to really be wealthy however. The writer of Proverbs reminds us that if we get rich, we might come to deny God. I know there are many Christians who are rich and have not forgotten God. God bless them. May they use their money wisely. I just don’t really want to be like that. In fact, there is very little material wise that I want. I have a hard enough time thinking of things I want for Christmas every year.

I have also tried to be real in my apologetics. I love the life of the mind and reading, but I never want to be one who dwells in the ivory tower. That’s why you’ll also find me playing a game every now and then and be aware of what’s going on in my favorite TV shows and such. I want to enjoy many of the good things God gave us to enjoy.

So now having said all that, let’s look at Hardman’s article some.

Hardman starts with a great account about how he was able to do so much including getting a ministry established that now has an international impact. I find this to be incredible and honestly an account that makes me wonder what I was doing back in the day. I admire greatly his passion and his desire for change.

Now I cannot say that I was ever someone who was an atheist or agnostic but had my faith changed by reading The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict. Oh I’ve asked the doubt questions before and I think every Christian should, but I can’t say it would be something that kept me up at night all my life or anything like that.

Hardman does say he would at that time identify himself as an apologist and tell people that God had called Him to do this.

That is where we need to be careful. I understand how it is that God equips us, and I do believe God has given me the gifts and abilities to have the duty of being an apologist. But I’m careful to not say I have been called to do something like this. I think too often we place way too much of an emphasis on calling. That is part of our individualistic culture. Yes, calling did take place in the Bible, but that was to people like Elijah and Jeremiah and Paul.

You and I are not those people.

In fact, when we see ourselves getting to serve in this capacity, it should be a humbling thing. I often tell Allie that when I receive some compliment about how a piece I wrote blessed someone, it’s an honor to receive that and it’s humbling too. One example I shared in the Deeper Waters newsletter, upon the recommendation of my father-in-law, was to share an email I received from a gentleman who was thankful to read a review of a book on Ehrman I wrote and put on Amazon. I will post the letter here. (And I did get his permission to share it.)

“Mr. Peters, As a believer in Christ, the past 24 hours have been interesting and worrisome. I was reading an article in yesterday’s Huffington Post regarding Bill O’Reilly’s new book “Killing Jesus.” Some that left comments posted video’s of scholars who have done much more extensive work into Jesus than Mr. O’Reilly. One of the video’s was a debate that featured Dr. Bart Ehrman (who I had never heard of until yesterday) regarding textural criticisms with the NT. I found it fascinating and disturbing as being a Church attendee for over 40+ years, studying the Bible with the Bible Study Fellowship organization, hearing countless pastors, etc. NONE of what he was saying was ever spoken in Church or class. I went to Amazon to see what the reviews were for his book, before I purchased it, and I came across your enlightening one. I then found your website and do plan to look deeper into the Poached Egg and other links you shared. My question to you is, would you be able to recommend some readings for someone that had no idea this material existed? I need to know as much as I can absorb so the next time someone says to me “the Bible is just full of lies”, I will have some knowledgeable way to respond instead of the typical one that many Christians use – prove it. Thank you so very much and God bless! Phillip”

This review was a blessing to receive in many ways. Allie and I were at the card shop on a Saturday night for some gaming together when I got the email and I shared it with her. We joined some friends at a restaurant afterwards, but as I was driving home, I was angry. The letter had humbled me as well thinking how incredible it is to get to serve in this capacity, but I was angry at a church that had failed this man. There are too many like him who will never read such a review on Amazon and never be able to hold onto their faith.

When we’re reminded of what we do in the Kingdom, we should receive it as an honoring testimony, but we should also receive it as a humble reminder. None of us are essential to the Kingdom. God can do without any one of us. Yet He has chosen to allow us to serve and that ought to amaze us.

Part of Hardman’s concern also is with the concept of “apologist,” and I agree that there is a problem here. Too many apologists think they have to be masters of everything. They need to know how to defend the resurrection, then answer every argument against abortion, then know the ins and outs of each cult out there, then recognize all the problems in other world religions. They have to be masters of science who can answer any question on evolution. Naturally, they also have to have an encyclopedic record of every Bible contradiction out there.

Reality check people. You can’t do that.

If you try to do that, you will burn yourself out, and when you meet people who know an area you don’t really study and you claim you do, it will end badly.

When I say I am an apologist then, I am not able to give the whole story, any more than someone can do so by saying “I’m a doctor.” No doctor can be a specialist in every field. No biologist can be a specialist in every area in biology. There are always going to be limitations to your knowledge no matter what field you go into. In our culture, science is highly prized, but because someone says “I’m a scientist”, it does not mean that they’re a master in every natural science out there.

Hardman writes that he didn’t know God in what he was doing despite knowing all about Him. Now when it comes to something like this I want to again caution that we be careful. Honestly, I am often amazed when some people describe me as a great lover of God. It’s not something I readily see in myself. Interestingly, one of the things that first drew my wife to a nerd like me was that she saw I really loved Jesus, at least in her eyes! I loved Jesus and yet I could talk about games with her on the same level. I was a nerd who was actually taking this stuff seriously. How does that work?

Could it be part of the danger we have today is how we define love? Love is not to be measured by the emotional response you have towards something. You may or may not have that and that could be for a variety of reasons. What love is really defined in is seeking the good of the other for the sake of the other.

We would all be really great in our marriages if we had good feelings all the time about the other person constantly, but would that mean we were genuinely loving? Isn’t the loving person the one who serves not only when the feelings are there, but also when the feelings are absent? The loving person does the good they are to do because they are to do it.

I won’t deny there have been many times I’ve got up in the morning and I’ve been angry with my God. Why is it if He’s a God of love and grace and works all things for the good of those who love Him, that I am in the state that I am in? I am angry with God then, and I’m not justifying it either. What do I do? Serve anyway.

We cannot control our feelings. If we could, we would all make ourselves feel happy all the time. We can control our actions. What if you saw me being unloving to my wife and asked “Why did you do that?” and I said “I just didn’t feel loving at the time”? Would you say “Oh thank you very much. That clears it up!” I hope not! I hope you would say something like “Whether you feel loving or not, that’s no excuse to be a jerk. You’re supposed to do the right thing anyway.”

I also wonder about our talk so much about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This is terminology I see nowhere in the New Testament. What it talks about the most in there is that we have peace with God. God’s wrath no longer abides on us. We are in right relationship through the Father by the Son and with the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.

We soon get in Hardman’s piece to a revealing section.

“I knew “why I believed what I believed” yet I, too, was in that 75%. How ironic! If my private life was exposed–my addiction to porn, my alcohol and pot consumption, my relationship with my girlfriend–I looked like your average college guy, not the model of an upstanding Christian apologist I tried to be in front of others.”

I am reminded of the passage in 1 Tim. 3 about how a recent convert should not hold a place in leadership. Too much success early on can lead to pride. What I see here is that it looks like Hardman was saying one thing in public and being different in private. It also looks like this included something men really struggle with, namely sexual sin.

Unfortunately, the church says very little about sexual sin.

It also brings to mind something about how we are in our society. Everyone has to put their best foot forward in the church. Think about what I said about my Bible reading at the start. You know who would be very unwelcome in our churches today?

The Psalmist would.

Seriously. Go through and look at the Psalms. Look at the way they complain to God. Look at the way they accuse God. Look at the reasons why they say God should help them. It’s not always “So your glory may be known.” It can be “So that I will not suffer.” We would look at the Psalmist today at church and say “Dude. You need to be more spiritual. You need to have the joy of Jesus in your life.”

Reality check again. This was found fit to be put in Scripture. Apparently, God wanted us to see this attitude. Why? Because He condemns it and wants us to avoid it?

No. Because He knows it is us.

Last night, I read part of Psalm 44 where the Psalmist wrote about how God had rejected the people of Israel and let their enemies defeat them. He had gone back on the covenant and yet the Psalmist said “We have not strayed from the path. We have honored your covenant.”

I went to bed thinking about that and thinking “Israel in the Hebrew Bible kept the covenant? Who does this Psalmist think He’s fooling?”

Yet it was not too long before the cold reality hit.

“I am the Psalmist.”

I do not mean I wrote the Psalm of course, but how many times do I say “God, why are you doing this in my life when I have been faithful to you? I have served you with due diligence and done the work required of me. Why have you done this to me?”

In those times, I’m saying the exact same thing the Psalmist is saying.

Who do I think I’m fooling?

And yet, that psalm is there for me to read. It is there to remind me someone has been where I have been before. Someone has struggled with what I have struggled before. I took great delight in what the Psalmist said then and realized I was too quick to condemn him. I was just as bad.

Now Hardman has some good points about doubt. Apologetics will not help with every doubt because not every doubt is a factual doubt. A lot of it is emotional doubt. This is where the work of Gary Habermas is so helpful. Habermas has catalogued the three different kinds of doubt and how to deal with them. (Free books on this are available at his web site.)

I know many a person who has struggled with doubt so much, and it’s not intellectual doubt. When I am asked if X is a deal-breaker for Christianity, I now just ask “What do you think I’m going to say?” The answer is the same every time. The person does need knowledge of course, but they also need to deal with unruly emotions, which is the work of a good counselor.

Hardman also says that sometimes we can seek to shut some people down in apologetics which he sees as very un-Christian.

Yet I wonder if that’s not also part of our modernism. We have an emphasis on our feelings and the individual and what the individual thinks of us. Yet Jesus did not hesitate to shut down his opponents. He referred to the Pharisees as blind guides and told his disciples to leave them. He publicly denounced them. Before we say, “Well, that’s Jesus,” let’s keep in mind the fact that this attitude went into the writings of Paul, John, and others in the early church. A passion for the truth led them to be forceful with the enemies of the truth who were coming to devour the flock.

Can some people do such out of pride and evil attitudes? Of course. Does that mean all do? No. Sometimes love means being firm and tough. I tell people that if all you have is a hammer, then yes, everything looks like a nail. If all you have is a hug though, everything looks like a kitten. It’s why I think there is a place for sarcasm and satire in defending the faith.

Did Hardman do this out of pride? If he says so, then he needs to repent of that—and perhaps his writing this article is part of his way of showing that he has. Does that mean everyone does apologetics out of pride? No. That would be just as wrong as saying that because a lot of people preach Christianity out of a love for Jesus, that means that everyone does. Many do not.

Now I will also say that I am certainly one who would describe himself as having a deep love for my field, but I also make sure that that field is secondary to the duties that only I can do and one in particular, loving my wife.

To my fellow men who are apologists and married, I tell them that if you go out and have a successful ministry and answer all the questions and write all the books, but you have failed to be a husband to your wife, then I count you a failure overall.

I realize that when I cannot do the work in the apologetics field for whatever reason, then there are others who can take up the slack for me. No one can take up the slack on being the husband of Allie Peters. No one can fill that in for me. If we ever have children, no one else can take up the slack of being the father to the little ones.

When my anniversary comes about or Allie’s birthday or some event like that, then apologetics is not as pressing a need in that day. Of course, if an emergency came up of some sort, Allie would understand that sometimes, you have to do things. If I receive a call from a friend who’s suicidal for instance on a day like that, Allie will not want me to say “Well it’s our anniversary. Can I call you tomorrow?”

Unless that happens, I love my wife and when I’m with her, I want her to be my focus. No one else can do that for me. I have promised her already that while I am an apologist, I am not married to what I do. She is my spouse and not my work. My work is extremely important, and she knows that and encourages and supports me in it, but it is her that I sleep next to every night.

And since I’ve talked about failure, let’s discuss it a little bit more. I also take what I do seriously because failure is one of my great fears. Allie can tell you that what I want most of all is to enter into eternity and hear God say “Well done good and faithful servant.” I want to know that God is pleased with the work that I have done. I want to have Him smile on me. Some may call that prideful, but what is the alternative? That I care nothing for pleasing Him?

Would I say I always serve God with pure motives? No. But what is the alternative? If I wait until my motives are pure, I will never truly serve God. I must be seeking to serve and be praying that in all of that, God will work on my heart and help me serve as purely as I can, knowing that all I do this side of eternity will always have some of that fallen nature.

As we get down to it in the end, that’s really the problem.

It’s not Christianity.

It’s not apologetics.

It’s not ministry.

It’s not other people.

The problem is us.

We are fallen.

We have met the enemy and it is us.

But as said earlier, we are also ones that God has graciously seen fit to use in this endeavor and we should seek to not lose sight of that. Every blessing we have in our lives comes from Him and we are to serve Him with all we have. We will all fall short. We will all do so imperfectly, but let us make sure that we are all walking together. That way when someone falls, others can pick them up and help them to walk straight again.

We can never give our Lord our best. But let’s give Him what we can.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Can A Seminary Be Academic?

January 5, 2013

Is there freedom of thought? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

A friend sent me an article by Peter Enns wanting to see what I thought of it. I will put a link to it at the end of this article, but basically, Enns is saying that there is a problem in many evangelical circles in that one cannot have freedom of thought since one must believe such and such about biblical interpretation to be included.

As I read this, I thought about how in the last election cycle, actor Jon Lovitz came out speaking against some policies of Obama and when he did so, he immediately became a target. He had gone against the party line. For some of us, that shows a groupthink mentality in Hollywood. Do we want to have the same here?

Of course, there is an important difference. In order to be an actor or some role in Hollywood, one does not need to have a certain set of political beliefs. In order to be a Christian, one does require a set of religious beliefs certainly. I do not doubt that Enns would say that someone who denies truths like the physical resurrection of Jesus, his deity, the Trinity, and salvation by grace through faith is not a Christian. If he does not, then I say he definitely has his own set of problems.

Yes. There are identifying beliefs of a Christian, but is Enns right that our academies are in danger of losing their effect on the world due to how they treat ideas that are contrary?

In many cases, I think we could be. The church has had a history of minoring in the majors and majoring in the minors. The minors are made a big issue because it’s suspected that they could lead to major errors. The irony is that it’s quite different from that. It’s the ideas that are treated like sacred cows that can often become the problem.

For instance, Ken Ham wrote a book on why young people were leaving the church. Why? We weren’t teaching young-earth creationism enough. Now this is a debate for those who are interested in that, but the reality is that Ham is completely off base. It is when a secondary issue is raised to a primary that the baby gets thrown out with the bathwater. When students are convinced, rightly or wrongly, that the Earth is not young, they decide the whole thing is a sham. I cannot be more certain about this point. If your faith rests on the age of the Earth, young or old, instead of on the resurrection of Jesus Christ, your faith is misplaced.

In the same boat, Inerrancy is also an issue like this. Now keep in mind this is a position that I hold to. I do think the Bible is true in all that it teaches. However, I also know that there are a number of Christians who are sure that if there is one error in the Bible, then that means Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead and the Bible is in error.

An example of the problems this leads to can be found with one atheist who is not worth naming mentioning an email he received about someone who abandoned the faith.

“One day I was at a Barnes and Noble browsing around. I got to the Philosophy section, and picked up (this book by an atheist) . Part 2 of the book is titled “Why the Bible Is Not the Word of God.” After reading about some historical, scientific, and moral errors I went to the Christian Inspiration section of the store to get a Bible so I could read the context of each verse. Finally, hours later I renounced my faith.”

Yep. A whole hours later. That’s a real commitment right there. Never bothered to go to the Christian section and see if there were any responses to this, which would have been a fruitful endeavor. Now if after a long time of searching, he was convinced the Bible was wrong and untrustworthy, he should not be a Christian. I still think he’s wrong entirely and the contradictions can be resolved, but at least he did his due diligence then.

Do you see what happened? A non-essential was made an essential and because of that, someone fell away from the faith. In fact, it is for reasons like this that while I hold to Inerrancy, I no longer really argue for it. Why? I’m just out to demonstrate that Jesus rose from the dead. If you say we need Inerrancy to do that, then it seems that you are saying we cannot make a historical case for the resurrection. We are left with fideism. We believe the Bible because it says so. We believe the Bible is separate from history and cannot be touched on history but speaks authoritatively in history. I consider this a highly dangerous position.

Enns mentions a number of beliefs like the historicity of Adam (Which I hold to), different ways of reading creation (I prefer John Walton’s idea), and the dating of the Pentateuch, Isaiah, and Daniel. (I hold to their traditional dates.) Note something in each of these cases. If I am wrong in any of them, I would prefer to be shown that I am wrong rather than holding to something that is false. To be fair, there are some issues I have not invested time in since I can’t study everything. With those, I trust the majority of scholars I have read, but if better arguments come forward, it behooves us as people who claim to be champions of truth and logic to believe those arguments.

When we act like an Inquisition in our own circles, it gives off the aura of doubt. Instead, when someone comes up with something like “I don’t hold to the historical Adam,” instead of reacting with panic, we need to say “Okay. Fair enough. Make your case. Give your evidence. We will look at your evidence and give a counter-response.” If we speak from Sinai, we instead become totalitarian and more like cult leaders instead of people who claim to be open-minded. It doesn’t help us when we tell skeptics to approach the Bible with an open-mind, when we don’t do the same when someone in our own midst says they question an interpretation of it that we hold to.

If we hold such debates, it can only help us. Why? If our position is false, we are blessed because we are no longer saying what the Bible doesn’t say, and instead saying what it does say. If our position is true, then we’ve been given further reason to believe it is not because of authoritarian statements, but because of evidence and reasoning.

To be open to truth, we must be open to being wrong.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

link

Is Evolution a Problem?

February 11, 2012

If macroevolution was true, would that destroy Christianity? Let’s discuss it today on Deeper Waters.

On the Facebook page supporting Mike Licona, there has been discussion about the work of Peter Enns. I do not know enough about that at this moment to comment on that. However, in discussing all of that, the question has been raised about the role of science in interpreting Scripture and what it would mean if macroevolution was true.

Please note in all of this that I am not stating whether macroevolution is in fact true or false. Frankly, I am not a scientist and do not know enough about the scientific study to make a proper assessment of the data. What I simply wish to ask is if it would be a defeater for Christian theism if it was found to be true. Note what it would take is to prove that Jesus did not rise from the dead.

I think much of the problem is that we moderns read Genesis in a way the ancients would not have. We are so scientific that we read it as if it was a scientific account. This is a mistake old-earth and young-earth creationists both make. The question we should be asking is why did God include it and why would the ancients care?

To begin with, is God telling us something just to satisfy our intellectual curiosity? No. The Bible is a book meant to tell us about Jesus and not to tell us superfluous truths. In all of this, the creation account is meant only secondarily to tell us something about creation but primarily to tell us about God.

For the people, knowing the time it took to create would not help them in their debates with pagans. Then what? Could it be that the accounts were written more to show the purpose of creation? If so, then God is using something like storytelling in a unique way to us, but something ancients would have understood.

But what if I am wrong and in fact the Bible is wrong? Well my being wrong would not be the first time, but a lot of Christians would have a problem with the Bible being wrong. I do not think that it is, but as a believer in Inerrancy, I would have to certainly rethink some matters, but I would not throw out the baby with the bathwater. More on this in a bit.

What if someone presumes evolution and comes to the Genesis text and interprets it in that light? The reality is we all do something similar. We come to the text that speaks about the four corners of the Earth in Revelation, but due to knowing the world is not flat, and knowing that the ancients knew that, we know it means something else. We know of texts that seem to teach that the Earth cannot be moved, but due to our knowledge of heliocentrism, we know that that understanding would be false.

If we want to know if evolution is true, then the place to go is a science lab. Let us suppose you say “We have Scripture and Scripture teaches it is not.” Fair enough. Then you should want to open the doors to the science lab and be able to say “Do your best research and in the end you will find that it does not hold up.” If you take a stance of not wanting to examine the evidence, then I would question how much faith you really have that the Scripture is true.

If on the other hand, you are evangelical and believe macroevolution is true, you should also be willing to say “Bring forth your toughest objections!” After all, if your belief is true, it will stand up to scrutiny. If you do not want to open yourself up, then the same question applies though to your science instead.

Now we return to this. Let us suppose for the sake of argument that macroevolution is true. Furthermore, let us suppose for the sake of argument that Scripture is incompatible with this, thus demonstrating that Scripture has an error. Again, I do not think this. I am merely taking the worst-case scenario.

Even here, Christianity is safe.

Why? One mistake does not prove it all false. For instance, Scripture teaches that Jesus existed. Are we going to deny what all scholars of the NT and ancient history would affirm just because the Bible would not be inerrant? Well then you ask, “How do we know what’s true in it?”

Let me ask you. How do you know what’s true on the internet? How do you know what’s true on TV? How do you know what’s true in that book you’re reading? If the answer is “Well I examine the evidence and I go where it leads,” then congratulations on answering your own question. We’d study the Bible the same way we do Tacitus, Josephus, or anything else.

Thus, we can believe that the Pauline epistles do contain a strong case based on the 1 Cor. 15 creed that Jesus rose from the dead alongside the information we have in Galatians. Because Genesis would be wrong, it does not follow that Paul has to be wrong. We also need to realize that people were arguing for the resurrection before any epistles or gospels were written.

In conclusion, this leaves Christianity in a powerful position. We can take what is assumed to be a defeater for our faith and show it is not. We could even for the sake of argument grant contradictions in the Bible and still demonstrate that Jesus rose from the dead. After all, we do believe for a great miracle, God left great evidence. Indeed He did, even if it was through fallible men who made mistakes.

In Christ,
Nick Peters