Thursday, December 18, 2014

Video: How Can Pastors Equip Their Churches to Defend the Faith?

For more from J. Warner Wallace, see here.

For more from the One Minute Apologist, see here.

Courage and Godspeed,

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

An Interview with Joel Furches

Joel Furches, author of Christ-Centered Apologetics: Sharing the Gospel with Evidence, took time out to answer a few of our questions about apologetics and his new book.

Q: Can you tell us how you got involved in apologetics and how long you have been doing it?

I grew up in a pretty sheltered Christian environment. I went to a Christian School, to church, and vacationed at Christian resorts. All my friends and all of the friends of our family were Christians.

Of course, when I went to college, my parents helped me pick a Christian College.

So in my first Bible class in my freshman year, when my professor opened the Bible and began to talk about how the Old Testament was a compilation of Babylonian and Egyptian myths edited, and re-written over generations by a number of Hebrew scholars hundreds of years after the fact, all of which had different agendas, I was completely unprepared for this.

I couldn't understand how my college professors called themselves Christian, and yet did not actually believe the Bible.

During my four years at college, I encountered a flood of denominational differences and a variety of different scientific and scholarly views on the Bible which made me realize that I was woefully ignorant regarding the knowledge that undergirds Christian beliefs.

While these experiences did not cause me to “lose faith,” they did leave me hungry for any kind of teaching that could tell me more about whether science, philosophy, and history gave any support to the things I had been taught my entire life.

Sadly, I didn't know about Apologetic material, and it didn't seem to be available as I was looking. Consequently, I languished in a kind of spiritual wasteland for a number of years. I wanted material that would teach me these things, but I could find little or nothing in the way of resources.

This all changed in a pretty unexpected way: when I got my first smartphone. The phone came with a podcast application which gave me access to a broad catalogue of podcasts that actually discussed the scholarship and science behind Christianity.

I subscribed to as many of these channels as I could, and spent all of my drive-time and down time listening to these. I began to purchase the books that they recommended and read through these.
In 2011, I found a freelance writing job for The Examiner. I originally subscribed to write a column on music, however that position wasn’t open. In searching for open positions, I was surprised to find that they wanted a local column on Christian Apologetics. I didn't go looking for this writing position; it found me.

I was actually uniquely qualified to write on Christian Apologetics.  My childhood, while not very informative in the Apologetics of Christianity, did give me a tremendous knowledge of scripture. My college experience had given me a solid education in liberal theology and Higher Criticism, and my personal study had given me a comprehensive knowledge of arguments coming from an atheistic worldview.

I have a strong background in psychology and sociology – as these were my primary areas of study in school.

This is how I began writing in the field of Apologetics.  My work with The Examiner served as a gateway into other apologetics and scholarly writing. For about two years, I wrote for Bible Translation Magazine during which time I contributed material about Biblical Criticism to a book published by the same company. I have also written guest columns for several other publications, been interviewed on a radio show about Apologetics, and I’ve even had one of my articles featured by an atheist radio show which attempted to disprove my argument.

Q: You just released your first book.  Tell us about that experience.

This project didn’t originally begin as a book. I had approached my church about teaching an adult class in Apologetics, and they had agreed. In looking through pre-existing curricula, I was not really satisfied by anything out there, and decided to write my own. In outlining, researching, and writing up the class, I prepared the framework for the book.

With the amount of material I had, I knew I could easily use the course as material for a book, and so I ran the idea past my editor at Bible Translation Magazine. He told me he would definitely publish it once I was done, so I began shaping it into a book.

The writing was relatively easy. I am an experienced writer, and I had all the raw material I needed to make the book a reality. The hardest part was going back through my research and referencing all of my sources.

Once I had a book, I submitted it to my editor at BTM.  After some minor disagreements over things like the title and format, my editor told me that he would not publish my book.  This was upsetting because I would not have put so much time and work into the project if I didn’t know for certain it was going to be published.

I began shopping it around to other publishers, and was picked up by CrossLink. Ultimately, this is the best thing that could have happened. BTM is a small-time operation which is essentially self-publishing. CrossLink is a major Christian publisher.  This reflects the quality of the material and writing in the book.

Q: In your book you offer a defense of the Gospels.   What are some of the reasons that have led you to the conviction that they are reliable?

In all honesty, the thing that impresses me most about the Gospels is the wisdom and authority with which Jesus speaks. It is astounding every time I read it. That a man from the first century could argue with the genius that Jesus possessed, and that his ministry could speak to people at all levels of education and intelligence across all cultures is the testimony which convinces me of their truth.

I don’t think that this is necessarily a bad apologetic argument, either. One would expect a book inspired by God to speak to the broadest possible audience, as the Bible seems to do. In fact, it is historically true that the Bible has been the most influential book in all of history – so much so, that all Western religious texts – from the Qu'ran to the Book of Mormon, even the Satanic Bible – live on its borrowed capital.

That this is backed by the hefty scholarship that I outline in my book makes it all the more persuasive.

Q: There are numerous apologetics books on the market.  What makes your book unique?

Apologetics is a fascinating and diverse field which covers a staggering range of topics and fields of thought. Christians who become heavily involved in Apologetics have no end of resources and interests that they can explore.

But Apologetics is not just a tool to appeal to the intellectual Christian: it is primarily a field intended to make the case for the truth of Christianity to a skeptical world. And the ultimate reason for a Christian to participate in conversations with non-Christians is to introduce them to Christ – in other words, Evangelism.

I would challenge anyone who is “into Apologetics” to think of the last time they had a conversation with a skeptic. How did that go? What did that look like? Did the discussion focus on the Gospel of Christ? Did the discussion even mention Christ?

On the same token, I would ask any person who does not know much about Apologetics to recall the last time they talked about their faith with a non-believer. Did they encounter roadblocks or challenges that prevented them from sharing the Gospel?

Evangelism and Apologetics should go hand-in-hand. Historically, they always have. When one looks at the Apostles and Evangelists in the New Testament, they share their Gospel with Apologetics.

My book focuses Apologetics where it always should have been focused: On Christ. Moreover, my book instructs the Evangelist in how to use evidence and reason as the mechanism through which they can communicate the Gospel message.

Q: What should readers expect to walkaway with after reading your book?

The reader will walk away with an extremely thorough case for the reality of the Biblical Jesus; backed with arguments and evidence under their belt.

Better still, my book discusses methods to speak to the cynical and skeptical culture in which we now live. It describes techniques and pitfalls that will allow them to communicate without combat, and to speak sympathetically instead of antagonistically.

A person who studies my book will be thoroughly equipped to share their faith with the confidence that history and scholarship provide.

To order Joel's new book, go here.

To checkout Joel on The Examiner, see here.

Courage and Godspeed,

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Is Our Universe Simply the Winner of a Universe Lottery?

One formulation of the design argument for God's existence is as follows:

1. The fine-tuning of the universe is due to either physical necessity, chance, or design.
2. It is not due to physical necessity or chance.
3. Therefore, it is due to design.

Sometimes skeptics will offer a lottery example in order to justify the chance alternative.  In his book On Guard, William Lane Craig illustrates how this claim might sound:

"In a lottery where all the tickets are sold, it's fantastically improbable that any one person should win, yet somebody has to win!  It would be unjustified for the winner, whoever he may be, to say, 'The odds against my winning were twenty million to one.  And yet I won!  The lottery must have been rigged!'

In the same way, they say, some universe out of the range of possible universes has to exist.  The winner of the universe lottery would also be unjustified to think that because his universe exists, this must have been the result of design, not chance.  All the universes are equally improbable, but one of them, by chance, has to win." [1]

Dr. Craig goes on to explain why the above analogy betrays a misunderstanding of the design argument:

"Contrary to popular impression, the argument for design is not trying to explain why this particular universe exists.  Rather, it's trying to explain why a life-permitting universe exists.  The lottery analogy was misconceived because it focused on why a particular person won.

The correct analogy would be a lottery in which billions and billions and billions of white ping-pong balls were mixed together with just one black ping-pong ball, and you were told that one ball will be randomly selected out of the horde.  If it's black, you'll be allowed to live; if it's white, you'll be shot.

Now notice that any particular ball that is randomly selected is equally improbable: No matter which ball rolls down the chute, the odds against that particular ball are fantastically improbable.  But some ball must roll down the chute.  This is the point illustrated by the first lottery analogy.  That point, however, is irrelevant because we're not trying to explain why this particular ball was picked.

The crucial point is that whichever ball rolls down the chute, it is overwhelmingly more probable that it will be white rather than black.  Getting the black ball is no more improbable than getting any particular white ball.  But it is incomprehensibly more probable that you will get a white ball instead of a black one.  So if the black ball rolls down the chute, you certainly should suspect that the lottery was rigged to let you live.

So in the correct analogy, we're not interested in why you got the particular ball you did.  Rather we're puzzled by why, against overwhelming odds, you got a life-permitting ball rather than a life-prohibiting ball.  That question is just not addressed by saying, 'Well, some ball  had to be picked!'

In the same way, some universe has to exist, but whichever universe exists, it is incomprehensibly more probable that it will be life-prohibiting rather than life-permitting.  So we still need some explanation why a life-permitting universe exists." [2]

Courage and Godspeed,

1. William Lane Craig, On Guard, p. 114.
2. Ibid., 114-116.

Monday, December 15, 2014

HBU Podcast: Christians Don't Need to Be Dumb

In this podcast, Dr. John Mark Reynolds sat down with Dr. Philip Nation and Dr. Jeremiah Johnston to speak on this issue and how it relates to Christian publishing.

Stand firm in Christ,

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Paul K. Moser on the Existence of God

"Many sane, educated and generally trustworthy people claim not only that God exists but also that they have genuine knowledge, including justified true belief, that God exists. Because claims are typically cheap and easy, however, the claim to know that God exists will prompt the following response, usually sooner rather than later: How do they know? This common four-word question, although irksome at times, is perfectly intelligible and even valuable, as far as it goes. It seeks an explanation of how the belief that God exists exceeds mere belief, or opinion, and achieves the status of genuine knowledge. In particular, this question typically seeks an explanation of how, if at all, the belief that God exists is grounded, justified, reasonable, or evidence-based regarding affirmations of truth. A plausible goal behind our four-word question is, at least for many inquirers, to acquire truth in a manner that includes an adequate indication of true belief. These truth-seeking inquirers aim not only to avoid false belief and lucky guesswork, but also to minimize the risk of error in their beliefs (at least in a way befitting to the acquisition of truth). We should aim for the same, as people who seek truth but who are faced sometimes with facts and other realities at odds with our opinions. In seeking truth about God's existence, in particular, we thus should seek truth based on evidence for God's reality. Such evidence, if available, would indicate that it is true that God exists, or (in other words) that God is real rather than fictional."

Courage and Godspeed,

HT: The Poached Egg

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

On the Miracle of Christmas

Stories have the power to communicate profound truths and teach us something different each time we hear them. Such is the case with Charles Dickens' famous novel A Christmas Carol.  I am currently reading this work for the third time and each year I do I am impressed with Dickens' brilliance and Scrooge's dramatic transformation.

However, the danger in reading or hearing a great story multiple times is that the story can become commonplace. Before we know it, the story that used to move us so becomes routine and ordinary and we are no longer moved by it. In hearing the story repeatedly, the account seems to lose the wonder it once held. However, the story hasn't change.

This loss of wonder is the danger the follower of Jesus Christ faces when hearing the account of His virgin birth. The countless Christmas cards, Nativity scenes, and decorations that consume so much of the Christmas season can slowly and subtly create the false assumption that the virgin birth is no more factual than Scrooge's redemption.

However, the Bible not only claims the virgin birth occurred, but that it is vital to the redemption of mankind!

In Luke's gospel, he provides us with not only the account itself, but also communicates his desire to tell the truth about the life, events, and ministry of Jesus Christ:

“Insomuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:1-4, ESV, Emphasis mine).

It is also important to remember that Luke provides us with a very unique perspective of Jesus’ story and claims when one considers that he was a Gentile, a physician, and the first historian of the Early Church. 

Sir William Ramsey, an eminent archaeologist, once held that Luke's writings were not historically sound. His own subsequent investigation of near-eastern archaeology forced him to reverse his position and conclude that "Luke is a historian of the first rank." [1]

Further, as on philosopher notes, “Ramsey spent twenty years of research in the area Luke wrote about. His conclusion was that in references to thirty-two countries, fifty-four cities, and nine islands Luke made no mistakes! That is a record to be envied by historians of any era.”

Luke was a reliable source who paid great attention to detail!

However, can I thinking person really believe in miracles?  I think so.  Science has revealed that the universe exploded into existence out of nothing at some point in the past. Most often referred to as the “Big Bang,” this is when all matter, time, and space came suddenly into existence out of nothing. Logically, the cause of the big bang could not have been within nature because nature did not yet exist when it occurred, therefore, whatever brought nature into existence must be outside of nature and this is precisely what supernatural means! This is indeed what led agnostic astronomer Robert Jastrow to say:

“That there are what I or anyone would call supernatural forces at work is now, I think, a scientifically proven fact.” [3]

Einstein contemporary Arthur Eddington echoed Jastrow’s conclusion:

“The beginning seems to present insuperable difficulties unless we agree to look on it as frankly supernatural.” [4]

Therefore, we can conclude from science itself that miracles are not only possible, but we have good scientific reasons to believe that one has occurred.

From creation to the cradle to the cross to the empty tomb, God demonstrates His love for us.  

Courage and Godspeed,

1) W.M Ramsay, The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament p. 222; quoted in Bruce, F. F. The New Testament Documents - Are They Reliable?, p. 91.
2) Norman Geisler, Alleged Errors in Luke, Bake Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, p. 431.
3) “A Scientist caught between Two Faiths: Interview with Robert Jastrow", Christianity Today, August 1982.
4) Arthur Eddington, The Expanding Universe, p. 178.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

11 Christmas Books Everyone Should Read

Brian Phillips of the CiRCE Institute posted another "undefended" list of books to read; this time for the Christmas season. They are as follows:

1. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
2. Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien
3. The Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffman
4. Christmas Spirit by George Grant and Gregory Wilbur
5. The Gospels of St. Matthew, St. Luke, and St. John
6. A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas
7. God Is in the Manger by Deitrich Bonhoeffer
8. On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius
9. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson
10. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
11. The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry
12. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
13. The Man Born to be King by Dorothy Sayers
14. The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen
15. The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding by Agatha Christie

You can find the original list, and Phillips explanation for why there are 15, here.

The first list of must read novels for Christians he posted can been found here.

Stand firm in Christ,