Category Archives: Apologetics

A Friendly Atheist

An old man walked into my barbershop the other day. He sat down and started to talk to the guy cutting his hair and he offered up a bit of personal information, namely that he was an atheist. My coworker is a believer as well so he started in on the guy. He shared the gospel with him and tried a few apologetic arguments. I just kept on cutting my client and listening in on their conversation.

The older gentleman stated several times that he envied my coworker’s faith and wish he could believe, but he’s seen too many atrocities (he’s a Vietnam vet) to believe that God exists. He kept saying that if God is real then he should fix the world’s problems. I chimed in and told him to be patient. Everything he’s asking for will happen, just not right now. He repeatedly said that if he was God he’d do things differently and fix all the world’s ills.

I chimed in again and told him that it didn’t sound so much like he didn’t believe in God, but rather that he did believe and was just angry at him. I thought about Doug Wilson’s two tenets of atheism: 1) There is no God; 2) I hate him. Throughout the course of the haircut the guy never got belligerent with us; he didn’t exhibit anger toward us; and yet his hostility toward God was palpable.

When he was done with the cut he got up, paid for the service, had a couple of cookies, and said goodbye. I left him with this food for thought; I said, “You keep talking about what’s wrong with the world and how God should fix it if he’s real. You keep appealing to these things as if we should somehow know why they’re wrong and instinctively agree with you. And we do, but only because there is a standard outside of ourselves that we can appeal to to know what’s right and wrong. I want you to ponder what that standard is and why you keep appealing to it.”

This guy will definitely be back and when he is I can’t wait to have a deeper conversation with him.

B”H

The Old ‘Jesus Never Said’ Argument

I’ve lost count of how many times throughout the years that I’ve heard people mount a defense for gay marriage (or the non-sinfulness of homosexuality more generally) with the argument that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality. It’s an argument from silence to be sure, but the force of it (if it has any) is that Jesus could have specifically condemned homosexuality just as he did murder or adultery or any other number of sins, but didn’t. And since Jesus didn’t condemn it then it doesn’t matter if another NT author did.

One stock response is to say that Jesus doesn’t condemn every individual sin and yet even those who argue for the non-sinfulness of homosexuality or gay marriage would agree that certain things Jesus never spoke of are sins. Take child molestation as an example. Not many in the pro-gay camp would argue that Jesus would green-light pedophilia simply because he didn’t call that particular sin out by name.

Another more common response is to look at what Jesus did say and argue from the general to the particular. Jesus never said the words (so far as we know), “homosexuality is sinful and gay marriage is a sinful union,” but he did say, “I have not come to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it.” He did say that “until heaven and earth pass, not one jot or tittle will pass from the Law, until all is fulfilled.” So we would take Jesus’ general upholding of the Law and apply that to specific instances of law breaking.

But I’d take a different approach. I’d note that the person making the argument is already presupposing biblical authority. After all, they want to accept Jesus’ words as authoritative and since he didn’t specifically condemn homosexuality (in general) or gay marriage (in particular) then neither should we. But Jesus’ words are recorded in Scripture and Scripture was written by men other than Jesus. By taking Jesus’ words as authoritative you’re taking the recorder of his words as authorities.

And since the Gospel writers’ words were inspired (= breathed out) by the Holy Spirit just as the writers of the epistles’ words were, then we can’t possibly pit Paul against Jesus. Paul was no less inspired than Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. We can’t take the clear condemnations of homosexuality in Paul and disregard them because Jesus didn’t say them. At least we can’t do that and be consistent.

If one were to do that then I’d ask why they’re appealing to Jesus at all. If they want Jesus’ words to be authoritative then Scripture has to be authoritative, But if they don’t want Scripture to be the authority then they don’t want Jesus’ words either and might as well disregard them and say that they don’t really care about what Jesus did or did not actually say.

B”H

The Myth of Objectivity

Eric Vanden Eykel posted a Tweet thread on a recent blog post by Tavis Bohlinger on the Logos Academic Blog. The post in question was Joel B. Green’s answer to the question: “What makes a good biblical scholar?” Joel has clarified in the comments to that post that he was addressing a similar but different question, namely: “What makes a good scholar of the Bible understood as the church’s Scripture?”

My concern isn’t with the post itself but rather with one of the comments that followed the post. Someone named Matt West said the following in response:

What makes a good Biblical scholar is someone who studiess [sic] the writings in terms of their origin, history, and intent; someone who strives to comprehend the material and its impact on history, literature, and philosophy. What you describe in your essay is what makes a good Christian scholar. There is a huge difference between these two. The first is objective and scientific, the second is subjective and done with prejudice.

I wish I had the time to adequately unpack everything that’s wrong with this comment but I’m writing this on the fly before I head off to work. I will say two things. First, objectivity is a myth. What do I mean? I mean that there is no such thing as a “brute fact,” that is, an uninterpreted fact that has no reference to some other fact. Any-and- every-thing has to be interpreted and every interpretation will be contingent upon the facts that one has already acquired or the beliefs that one already holds.

An atheist who interprets the Bible does so through the lens of their disbelief. A Christian who interprets the Bible does so through their lens of belief. There’s a lot more to be said about this (especially in terms of autonomous reasoning versus thinking God’s thoughts after him) but I’ll have to say those things at a different time. The point is that Bultmann was right when he said there is no presuppositionless exegesis. This idea that one can just read the text and understand it without coming to the text with both hidden and apparent presuppositions is preposterous.

Second, Mr. West seems to say, or at the very least imply, that a Christian is not capable of this so-called scientific and objective scholarship. Christians, you see, approach the text subjectively and with prejudice. One could reason that as long as you’re not a Christian then you’re good to go and can understand the text for what it’s really saying. I mean, Christians don’t study “the writings in terms of their origin, history, and intent” and they certainly don’t “[strive] to comprehend the material and its impact on history, literature, and philosophy.” Why would they?

I’d love to take a moment to note how absolutely arbitrary this list is anyway, but I really do have to get to work. I’d argue that Christian scholarship is even more concerned with getting to the truth of the biblical text because they’re the ones who think this stuff actually matters! The believing scholar genuinely cares (or should) about what the original author intended to communicate to his audience and is constantly asking what impact this has on the community of believers today. Asking that question forces the believing scholar to look at the impact of the text throughout history.

Okay, I really gotta go. More anon…

B”H

Just Ordered (and, Just Picked Up)

Indulge me a quick(ish) preface to this announcement of recent purchases. Today marks exactly one year since I stood before a room full of witnesses and made vows to my wife. I mention this firstly because it’s one of the more monumental moments in my life and secondly because it brings to mind something that we were told during out premarital counseling. The pastor who married us shared a story about how him and his wife have made it 40 years without impulse buying. They agreed that anything they wanted but hadn’t already planned for would be written down on a list in the kitchen and if they still wanted it after a day or two then they’d get it. He said that in all those years they never got anything off the list.

I’m not nearly as disciplined, but I have tried to implement that advice when and where possible. I share this anecdote because more than a week ago my buddy Michael Burgos started talking about getting a premium Bible. That sparked my interest and I began perusing evangelicalbible.com’s offerings. I found a couple that I liked but I determined that I wouldn’t get anything because I didn’t really need another Bible and I had no good reason to grab another at this moment in time. Well, after a week I still wanted one and I kept reading reviews, watching videos, and looking at pictures before finally deciding to pull the trigger.

I went with the Ocean Blue goatskin Crossway ESV Heirloom Legacy Bible. Now I’ve had an ESV Legacy before and I hated it. I ended up giving the thing away. It appears that this is an update and the major things that irked me are no more. I also went with this version because I had my heart set on blue (it really is quite striking!) and I’ve come to know and love single column texts over the years. As of late I read my Bible almost exclusively in my many Reader’s editions from Crossway. And though I haven’t handwritten anything in a Bible in quite a long time, this particular Bible has plenty of room in the margins and footer for note taking. I think I will pick the practice back up once I get it.

In addition to this premium Bible, my wife and I spent our first anniversary together out and about doing all manner of things. Our first stop was a Barnes & Noble for some Starbucks and book browsing. I ended up grabbing a copy of H. A. Guerber’s Classical Mythology for $7.98. I saw it the last time I was there and wanted to grab a copy but never did. I also opted to order a bunch of books from CBD’s Spring Sale before we went to see Death Wish, which was great, by the way! Here’s what I got from them:

The Structure of Sacred Doctrine in Calvin’s Theology

Translating the New Testament: Text, Translation, Theology

Rowan’s Rule: The Biography of the Archbishop of Canterbury

Evangelizing Catholics: A Mission Manual for the New Evangelization*

The Age of the Spirit: How the Ghost of an Ancient Controversy Is Shaping the Church

What Did the Ancient Israelites Eat? Diet in Biblical Times

ESV Gospel of John, Reader’s Edition

Friends of Calvin

The Fourth Cup: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper and the Cross*

Abraham Kuyper: A Pictorial Biography

An Outline of New Testament Spirituality

Romans: Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scriptures*

Treasures Old and New: Essays in the Theology of the Pentateuch

The Lamb’s Supper: The Mass As Heaven On Earth*

At the Heart of the Gospel: Suffering in the Earliest Christian Message

Consuming the Word: The New Testament and the Eucharist in the Early Church*

Qumran and Jerusalem: Studies in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the History of Judaism

The Gospel and The Mind: Recovering and Shaping the Intellectual Life

The Challenges of Cultural Discipleship: Essays in the Line of Abraham Kuyper

God Speaks: What He Says, What He Means

I got too many to link them all. Most of them ranged in price from $0.99 to $2.99. The notable exceptions are the volumes by Scott Hahn*, but I’m trying to get my hands on everything he’s ever written so I’m willing to pay the price for those. I’d love to say that this should hold me over for a while, and while it probably should, it definitely won’t. Until next time…

B”H

Home Library/Office Tour

I wanted to do this for a while. I had some time today. One day I’ll get a good camera and give this thing some real production value.

B”H

Do Christians and Jews Worship the Same God?

Earlier today on Twitter Mike Aubrey offered a friendly pushback to my post about Christians and Muslims worshipping the same God. I’ve just learned that a gentleman named Gavin on a blog called Otagosh has offered the same pushback. Basically, they’ve both responded that if Christians and Muslims don’t worship the same God then neither do Christians and Jews.

My response is to ask, which Jews? I have zero qualms about saying that Jews who have rejected Jesus as Messiah and deny the Trinity don’t worship the same God as Christians. But not all Jews fall into this group. Christianity was originally a Jewish movement. It’s founder is a Jew. It’s earliest adherents were Jews. It’s Scriptures were written by Jews.

But the early Jews who accepted Jesus as Messiah and wrote about the unique relationship shared between Father, Son, and Spirit were opposed by other Jews. An anti-Jesus Jewish movement grew in the same soil as this pro-Jesus Jewish movement. Both movements grew alongside one another and one became Christianity while the other retained the moniker of Judaism.

My point is, there are Messianic Jews, Jews for Jesus, Jewish Christians, and a host of other Jews who do indeed worship the same God that the Gentiles who have been grafted into Israel’s covenant worship. The Church is the “one new man” composed of Jew and Gentile alike, united in its worship of the one true God. But then there are plenty of Jews who don’t worship this God and we shouldn’t be afraid to say so.

On the flip side, I’m not familiar with any Muslims for Jesus or Muslim Christians. A denial of basic Christian tenets is foundational to their belief and worship of Allah. Their Scriptures say quite plainly that they don’t worship the Son or even believe him to be Son. Ours says that a denial of Jesus as Son is a denial of his Father as well, hence, I stand by my original answer to the question and add a qualified answer when switching the terms.

B”H

The Woman was First?

A coworker of mine has taken to saying that the African woman is God. He’s entitled to his opinion, wrong as it may be, but he keeps repeating that the Abrahamic religions have fabricated a story based on patriarchy. It seems that because they didn’t value women and wanted to keep them oppressed that they invented the story of the first man and the helpmeet that was taken from his side.

My coworker says that anyone with common sense knows that everything had to come from a woman because we all have mothers and no man has ever harbored life within him. My response, based on my limited understanding of the reproductive physiology of humans, is that the man possesses both an X and a Y chromosome while the woman possesses two X chromosomes. Hence the gender of a child is determined by the father because the father possesses both chromosomes.

So wouldn’t common sense tell us that a story like that of the first man (let’s call him Adam) and the woman (let’s call her Eve) taken from his side isn’t all that unlikely. And let’s assume for the sake of argument that this is simply a tale, a myth intended to convey a general idea rather than a specific story about two historical people. Wouldn’t common sense tell us that such a mythical account still makes sense on the basis that the first man had both genders within him the whole time?

Makes sense to me and I’m pretty common.

B”H

Beware of Overnight Experts

A coworker has recently become enamored with Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam. I blame myself. My cousin had been urging me for weeks to watch an interview that Farrakhan did with Jamal Bryant on the Word Network. I finally put it on at work and it caught my coworker’s attention. Since then it’s been nothing but Farrakhan on YouTube for him. The problem is that he has uncritically accepted without examination most everything that Farrakhan says about anything. My cousin is the same way. In fact, it’s exactly like talking to my cousin. Same script, verbatim.

I’ve tried to talk to my coworker where I can but he’s not ready to hear anyone but Farrakhan right now. Yesterday, for example, he assaulted us with a shotgun argument in which he talked about everything from how King James, who ruled the world, rewrote the Bible, to how Christianity is the white man’s religion and was used to control slaves, to how Islam was the original religion, to how the Qur’an has never been changed, to how black people invented science and math (none of which is true, for the record). There was much more in between but this was what I could remember being spit out at me in something like 30 seconds. I tried to focus on one thing at a time but I kept getting talked over. So I just ignored it. I know that now is not the time for him to hear me.

But I did tell him that I’m worried that he’s become an expert very quickly. He told me that he’s always known this stuff but has just ignored it. Nonsense I say, nonsense! There’s a reason that the Nation of Islam targets “the black man in America,” and that’s because many of them feel alienated, disenfranchised, oppressed, and maltreated. And in many cases that’s unfortunately true. The NOI gives them the outlet to feel justified in their anger. The same can’t be said of the black folks around the world that haven’t shared similar experiences. And I say this to say that my coworker is angry and has found a voice for this anger. He hasn’t studied what is being said, he’s just accepted it on face value.

Now me, on the other hand… I’ve been exposed to the Nation of Islam since I was 10 years old. From 16 to 21 I devoted a lot of time and energy into its teachings. I read Farrakhan’s speeches and watched VHS tapes of him before there was a YouTube to watch them on. Same with Malcolm X. I’ve read Elijah Muhammed’s books. I once had an entire filing cabinet full of Final Call newspapers. I’ve known NOI members for years. The point is that I’m not new to this. There was a time when I believed this stuff to be true. And then God saved me and I devoted a couple more years to studying this stuff from a critical perspective. So it’s not revelatory to me. I’ve been there and done that. I have the answers to his arguments but nothing I say will be received.

My bare disagreement with these views is enough to deny anything I say as true. His newfound expertise trumps my years of exposure and study because I’ve boughten into the white man’s “made up religion” while he’s come to the “knowledge of self.” So my task over the coming weeks isn’t going to be to argue and debate with him—he’s not ready—but to provide good information to my other coworkers who are exposed to his newfound views. I don’t claim expertise in anything, but I’m confident in the time I’ve spent on these subjects, and when it’s all said and done I’m really just interested in God being glorified through what I say and do, so my prayer is that however it goes I’ll be able to maintain my composure and speak the truth in love.

B”H

An Observation

I received an email the other day from a young man who was thinking about starting a blog and one of the things he asked me was whether or not I could recommend anyone dealing specifically with the arguments of Biblical Unitarians (i.e., Socinians). Unfortunately, no one these days really pays them much mind, which in turn means that no one is really addressing their arguments. On the one hand I get it; they’re a very small faction that you’re likely to encounter only on the internet. On the other hand, there are people who have written books challenging the claims of Oneness Pentecostals and Jehovah’s Witnesses, so it would be nice to have something else to add to the mix.

I noted that if he wanted anything substantial he’d have to go back to 17th century English theologians like Edward Stillingfleet, John Edwards, and William Sherlock. I also noted how none of them was without fault because they all suffered from the same basic shortcoming with regard to operating according to their opponents’ rationalism. The Socinians of their day denied the Trinity because it didn’t make sense and so these theologians argued (sometimes quite exhaustively) that it did make sense. The problem was that they tried to make sense of the doctrine according to the canons of their opponents and in turn veered off toward one heresy or another.

This, of course, is something that James Anderson notes in his Paradox in Christian Theology. The desire to make sense of the doctrine of the Trinity is laudable (it’s also doable, but it must be done from a biblical perspective, with Scripture as the ultimate authority; not various philosophies), but make too much sense and you end up with heresy. It’s also no coincidence that Anderson ended up being the one modern author I recommended on the topic as I think his defense of paradox is quite helpful in dealing with the rationalistic objections of Socinians.

But I’ve said all this to say that from my observation modern theolgoians and apologists just don’t seem to really care about Socinianism. Why this is I couldn’t say, but it is nonetheless. It would be nice if the next generation of apologists who specialize in the doctrine of the Trinity would take more notice of Socinianism. It would save interested readers the trouble of having to sift through verbose 17th century English authors!

B”H

Morning Reflections

Creation Debate

So I watched a little more than half the debate last night between Ken Ham and Bill Nye. I wasn’t impressed by anything other than the venue. The decorators at the Creation Museum did an awesome job. Really slick design (no pun intended)!

As far as the debate went, Ham spoke about worldviews, presuppositions, and the authority of Scripture, which was all good and should have been spoken about. The problem is that he didn’t take it far enough. Instead he focused on this dichotomy between “historical science” and “observational science,” saying that we can’t observe the past so there’s an element of faith in everyone’s idea of origins, even the evolutionist’s. Nye pointed out that astronomers observe the past all the time.

Twitter was ablaze with Ham haters and folks fawning all over Nye, but Nye wasn’t very impressive either, if I’m being honest. He kept speaking about “those of us on the outside” as if the folks who believe that everything came into being through something other than God are in the know while everyone who believes in creation are simpletons. It was condescending to say the least. He also employed a few unfunny jokes in his presentations. Folks on Twitter thought that no one laughed because the crowd was full of hostile creationists. Did they ever consider that the jokes bombed because they just weren’t funny?

In the end, if I had to give one of them the advantage based on what I saw, I’d give it to Nye. He kept bringing up pieces of evidence that he believes support his position. Ham kept referring to science PhDs who believed in creation and his historical/observational dichotomy while dancing around Nye’s arguments. I think Ham’s debates are better when he’s debating fellow believers because then the text of Scripture, which both debaters hold to be authoritative, can be engaged with more depth and seriousness.

Freezing Rain

It’s raining outside and it’s cold. That means the rain is freezing. Great. Should make for an excruciatingly slow commute. God, why must you continue to punish the people of New Jersey with this weather? Why?!!

Procrastination

I’ve got quite a few posts in my draft folder that I’d like to finish up. One is a review of William Hasker’s Metaphysics and the Tri-Personal God that is nearly complete. I’m going to have to go back and reread the conclusion of the book so that I can put the finishing touches on it, but Lord willing, I’ll get it done today! Pray for me! In addition to that, I began a series 6 months (!) ago in which I responded to recent reviews of Chris Tilling’s monograph Paul’s Divine Christology. The first 3 posts were in response to Matthew Novenson’s review in the Expository Times. I plan to continue the series (soon I hope!) with a look at Nijay K. Gupta’s review in The Journal for the Study of Paul and His Letters.

B”H