Atheism 2.0? Talking Back to a TED Talk

In 2011, atheist Alain de Botton gave a now-famous TED talk “Atheism 2.0.” As part of a seminary class on apologetics, Probe intern T.S. Weaver was assigned to write a response to it, which we are honored to publish. First, here is a video of that TED talk:

 

Dear Mr. de Botton,

First, I want to say I admire your courage to share these ideas publicly and I do think you are a gifted orator. I am a Christian seminary student and have both many things I agree with and disagree with from your talk. I will try to touch on them in the order you bring them up in your talk.

To start with when you say, “Of course there’s no God . . . now let’s move on. That’s not the end of the story. That’s the very very beginning,” I can respect that because I agree that a truth claim regarding the existence of God is just the beginning. This truth claim informs our entire worldview and how we live. To me, knowing there is a God (the same conclusion to which avowed atheist Sir Antony Flew came) gives me meaning, purpose, knowledge of where we came from, where we are going, and how to live. I wonder from your perspective, though, how without a God, any of these key issues in life can be addressed. Without a God, where do we come from? What does life really mean? How do we differentiate between good and evil? What happens when we die?

Going further in your talk, I must say I too love Christmas carols, looking at churches, and turning the pages of the Old Testament. We have common ground here, so again, we do not disagree on everything.

However, evaluating your view again, I do not see how you can be attracted to the “moralistic side” of religion without the existence of God. You say you are “stealing from religion;” that I agree with as well. I wonder if you have thought, if you are truly an atheist, how can there even be such things as morals? How can you define good? In relation to what? Where does this come from? If there is some moral law, have you thought about where it comes from? Do you think that implies there must be some sort of law giver? In the atheistic worldview what is the moral law and who is the law giver?

You go on to say, “There’s nothing wrong with picking out the best sides of religion.” That sounds nice, but I disagree. You must either adopt it all or nothing, otherwise you do not have a worldview that makes sense. There will be self-contradictions all throughout your view. A perfect example as I touched on above is your idea of “Atheism 2.0.” It is impossible to adopt a moralistic side because without God there are no morals. There is no reason to have a moralistic side. This is a contradiction. Have you considered this?

As your talk goes on, you say some remarkably interesting things I have not heard before, even from an atheist. Your claim the church in the early nineteenth century looked to culture to find morality, guidance, and sources of consolation is new to me. I would like to know how you came to this conclusion. Which denomination? Which church? What was your source of information? It is noticeably clear to me that the practice of the (Christian) church is to find all those things from Scripture and God. In fact, the Bible tells us in several places not to conform to culture. Here is one example from my favorite verse: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2) So, your claim is the exact opposite of what I as a Christian know presently and have learned about church history.

Furthermore, does not this refute how you opened your talk when you said, “We have done secularism bad”? You even say the church replacing Scripture with culture is “beautiful” and “true” and “an idea that we have forgotten.” This is the very description of how atheists “have done secularism,” is it not? From my understanding, atheism replaces Scripture with culture. Is this true, or am I missing something? If it is true, you have already done the reflection on how it is working and concluded it is “bad.” Yet you want to “steal from religion.” So, if your claim about church history is true, this is how it falls out: You think secularism has been done bad and want to instead steal morality from religion. And yet, religion (according to you) has gotten morality from culture (i.e., secularism). So, the very thing you would be stealing is what you yourself already called bad and would end up stuck with in the end anyway. Nothing has changed. Do you see how this is incoherent if it were true? Have you thought about this?

I do like your thoughts about the difference between a sermon (wanting to change your life) and a lecture (wanting to give you a bit of information). I also agree we need to get back to “that sermon tradition,” and we are in need of morality, guidance, and consolation, because like you said, “We are barely holding it together.” And I do mean “we” to cover both the atheist and the Christian alike. This is exactly what Christianity is about. We cannot “hold it together” on our own. That is why we have a Savior, and we live dependently on God, the moral law giver. Now again, you cannot have morality without the moral law giver. Furthermore, if you get guidance from atheists preaching sermons are you not facing the same problem I wrote of in the earlier paragraph? Where is the guidance coming from? Culture? Have you considered this to be the blind leading the blind?

I also agree with your point about the value of repetition. I have so much information coming at me so fast that if I do not revisit it enough, almost none of it sticks. That is another reason I am repeating some of my points.

Now you mentioned one of the things you like about religion is when someone is preaching a rousing part of a sermon, we shout “Amen,” “Thank you Lord,” “Yes Lord,” “Thank you Jesus,” etc. Your idea of atheists doing this when fellow atheists are preaching passionate points is both clever and funny. However, as Rebecca McLaughlin (a Christian) pointed out in her book, Confronting Christianity, your examples of secular audiences saying, “Thank you Plato, thank you Shakespeare, thank you Jane Austen!” falls flat because of the examples you chose. McLaughlin writes, “One wonders how Shakespeare, whose world was fundamentally shaped by Christianity, would have felt about being cast as an atheist icon. But when it comes to Jane Austen, the answer is clear: a woman of deep, explicit, and abiding faith in Jesus, she would be utterly appalled.”

Your point on art is amazingly fascinating. You say if you were a museum curator, you would make a room for love and a room for generosity. While this sounds beautiful, there is a problem. This will sound repetitive (helping us both learn and remember), but it is just like the morality dilemma you have presented earlier. If no God exists, what is love? What is generosity? How do you define it? Where does it come from? Why is it valuable? Why is anything valuable?

To beat the dead horse one more time (apologies) . . . In your closing statements you again you say all these things are “very good.” Well, what is good? How do you define it? In relation to what? Where does it come from? How do you know that? As you earlier confessed, you are stealing from religion. These stolen values have no grounding if atheism is true.

I know some of the issues I raised were not necessarily the purpose of your talk, but in all, I wonder if you have considered how the facts and implications you presented correspond to reality. Do you think all the assertions you made cohere? Do you find your idea of Atheism 2.0 logically consistent and rational? If you could give a follow up talk, could you offer any way to verify your claims empirically? Could you supply answers to the questions of origin, meaning, morality, and destiny?

Sincerely,

A Christian – T.S. Weaver


Atheist Myths and Scientism

Steve Cable exposes some atheist myths and the false ideology of scientism, all designed to destroy people’s faith.

A Two-Pronged Attack Against Christianity

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Atheist attacks against American Christianity are gaining more traction in our society. Their success can be readily seen in the growth of the number of American young adults who do not profess to be Christians. Tracking recent trends, around 50% of American Millennials fall in this category, with most of those identifying as atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular. More identify as nothing in particular than as atheist, but the atheist attacks certainly have a role to play in their ambivalent feelings about Christianity.

What have atheists done to create a cultural milieu that is drawing more and more young Americans away from Christianity? In this article, we will focus on two prominent prongs of the attack against Christianity. Those
prongs are:

1. Fabricating myths around the premise that Christianity and modern science are enemies of one another and have been so since the advent of modern science, and

2. Promoting the philosophy of scientism as the only way to view science.

First, the myths are an attempt to cause people to believe that the Christian church and a Christian worldview were and are anti-science. They want us to believe that the findings of science are counter to the make-believe teachings of Christianity and the Bible. They want us to look back at history and believe that the church was actively opposing and trying to suppress scientific knowledge. As Michael Keas tells us in his 2019 book Unbelievable, “These stories are nothing but myths. And yet some leading scientists . . . offer these stories as unassailable truth. These myths make their way into science textbooks . . . (and) enter into popular culture, whereby the myths pass as accepted wisdom.”{1}

However, many historians and philosophers have correctly pointed out that the Christian worldview of an orderly universe created by an involved God produced the mindset that gave birth to the scientific revolution. In his book How the West Won, sociologist Rodney Stark states, “Christianity was essential to the rise of science, which is why science was a purely Western phenomenon . . . science only arose in Christian Europe because only medieval Europeans believed that science was possible and desirable. And the basis of their belief was their image of God and his creation.”{2} In this article, we consider the key figures who propagated this myth and some of the falsified stories they have foisted upon us.

Second, they want us to accept scientism as the only valid way to view the role of science in our understanding of the universe. What is scientism? In his 2018 book Scientism and Secularism, professor of philosophy J. P Moreland defines it this way: “Scientism is the view that the hard sciences provide the only genuine knowledge of reality. . . . What is crucial to scientism is . . . the thought that the scientific is much more valuable than the non-scientific. . . . When you have competing knowledge claims from different sources, the scientific will always trump the non-scientific.”{3}

But scientism “is not a doctrine of science; rather it is a doctrine of philosophy . . . (In fact,) scientism distorts science.”{4} This philosophical doctrine came into favor among the public not because of scientific results, but rather as the result of proponents presenting it in popular ways as if it were the undisputable truth. As Moreland points out, “It is not even a friend of science but rather its enemy.”{5}

Myths about Christianity and Science

Atheists want to create stories to demonstrate that Christians are and have been the enemies of scientific exploration and discovery. Why this drive to recreate the past? They want to encourage people to turn away from Christianity as an enemy of science and weaken the faith of believers.

As Michael Keas makes evident in Unbelievable, this thinking is not based on reality. Instead, historical myths have been created to bolster their position either as a result of ignorance of the actual history or intentional deceit. After creating these myths, they use the educational system and mass media to ingrain these myths into the thinking of the masses.

Keas specifically looks at seven myths used for this purpose which we find embedded in our textbooks and proclaimed by popular television programs. To understand the nature of these myths, let’s consider two of the ones discussed by Keas.

Many of you learned of the Dark Ages, a period of time between A.D. 500 and 1500 where textbooks have claimed that science and the arts were stifled by the control of the church which opposed scientific understanding. In truth, this view is not supported by historical evaluations of that time. As reported in Stark’s revealing book, How the West Won, “Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the Dark Ages myth is that it was imposed on what was actually “one of the great innovative eras of mankind.” During this period technology was developed and put into use on a scale no civilization had previously known.{6} Keas found that this myth first appeared in textbooks in the 1800s but did not surface with an anti-Christian slant until the 1960s. Carl Sagan, and later Neal deGrasse Tyson, would help promulgate this myth on television through their Cosmos series.

Another myth exploded by Keas is that “Copernicus demoted humans from the privileged ‘center of the universe’ and thereby challenged religious doctrines about human importance.”{7} In fact, Copernicus as a Christian did not consider his discovery that the earth orbited the sun a demotion for earth or humans. What Copernicus saw as unveiling the mysteries of God’s creation over time began to be pictured as a great humiliation for Christians. In the 1950s some scientific writers began using the term “the Copernican principle” to refer to the idea “that the Earth is not in a central, specially favored position”{8} in the cosmos. As one Harvard professor has noted, “This is the principle of mediocrity, and Copernicus would have been shocked to find his name associated with it.”{9}

Keas also documents how this atheist strategy also pretends that many early scientists were not Christians. Johannes Kepler, known for his discovery of the three laws of planetary motion, is cited by Sagan in Cosmos as someone who “despaired of ever attaining salvation,”{10} implying that Kepler always felt this way. Sagan leads one to believe that in his astronomical discoveries Kepler was somehow freed from this concern. Yet from Kepler’s own writing it is very clear that he was a Christian, telling people shortly before his death that he was saved “solely by the merit of our savior Jesus Christ.” And speaking of his scientific endeavors he wrote, “God wanted us to recognize them [i.e. mathematical natural laws] by creating us after his own image so that we could share in his own thoughts.”{11}

Much of the reported relationship between science and Christianity is a myth made up to strengthen the atheist position that science repudiates Christianity and makes it superfluous and dangerous in today’s enlightened world. Nothing could be further from the truth, as a Christian worldview was foundational for the development and application of the scientific method.

Methodological Naturalism: A Farce

What about the prevalence of scientism, a belief system claiming that the hard sciences provide the only genuine knowledge of reality?

When considered carefully, the whole concept of scientism is a farce. Why? Because as philosopher J. P. Moreland points out, “Strong scientism is a philosophical assertion that claims that philosophical assertions are neither true nor can be known; only scientific assertions can be true and known.”{12} So the premise is self-refuting. They are saying that only scientific facts can be objectively true. Thus, the statement that only scientific facts can be true must be false because it is a philosophical assertion, not a scientific fact.

Another example of the faulty philosophy behind scientism comes in their insistence on adopting methodological naturalism as a criterion for science. Methodological naturalism is “the idea that, while doing science, one must seek only natural causes or explanations for scientific data.”{13} This idea immediately demotes science from being the search for the truth about observable items in this universe to being the search for the most plausible natural cause no matter how implausible it may be.

Although they appear to be unsure as to whether to apply the concept uniformly to all forms of science, its proponents are sure that it definitely should be applied to the field of evolutionary science. They make the a priori assumption that life as we know it originated and developed by strictly impersonal, unintelligent forces. No intelligence can be allowed to enter the process in any way. This approach to trying to understand the current state of life on earth is certainly an interesting exercise leading to a multitude of theories and untestable speculations. It is a challenging mental exercise and is valuable as such. However, scientism does not stop there. They declare that their unsupported (and I would say unsupportable) theories must be the truth about our origins, at least until replaced by another strictly naturalistic theory.

This approach seems to be an odd (and unfruitful) way to go after the truth due to at least three reasons. First, many other areas of science which include intelligent agents in their hypotheses are respected and their results generally accepted, common examples being archaeology and forensic science. Second, the current state of evolutionary science primarily appears to be tearing holes in prior theories, e.g. Darwinian evolution, rather than closing in on a plausible explanation. And, third, scientists are continuing to find evidence supporting a hypothesis that intelligent actions were involved in the formulation of life on earth.

If the sum of the available evidence is more directly explained by the involvement of some intelligent agent, then it would be reasonable to accept that potential explanation as the leading contender for the truth until some other answer is developed that is more closely supported by the available evidence. This is the attitude embraced by the intelligent design community. They embrace it because so much of the evidence supports it, including

1. the inability of other hypothesis to account for the first appearance of life,
2. the complexity of the simplest life forms with no chain of less complex forms leading up to them,
3. the relativity sudden appearance of all types of life forms in the fossil record,
4. the fine tuning of the parameters of the universe to support life on earth, and
5. the emergence of consciousness within humans.

In contrast, those supporting theistic evolution appear to do so in order to conform to the methodological naturalism of their peers. They claim to believe that God does intervene in nature through acts such as the miracles of Jesus and His resurrection. But they claim that God did not intervene in the processes leading up to the appearance of mankind on this planet. In my opinion, they take this stance not because the evidence demands it, but because methodological naturalism does not allow it. As Moreland opines, “Methodological naturalism is one bad way to put science and Christianity together.”{14}

Things Science Cannot Explain / God of the Gaps

As we have seen, scientism is a philosophy that says the only real knowledge to be found is through application of the hard sciences and that no intelligence can be involved in any of our hypotheses. So, they believe hard science must be capable of explaining everything (even if it currently doesn’t).

In this section we will consider some very important things that science cannot now nor ever be able to explain. In his book, Scientism and Secularism, J. P. Moreland lists five such things for us.

First, the origin of the universe cannot be explained by science. Why? Science has been able to identify that the universe most likely had a beginning point. But as Moreland points out, “Science can provide evidence that the universe had a beginning; it cannot, even in principle, explain that beginning; that is, it cannot say what caused it. . . No real thing can pop into existence from nothing.”{15} He points out three specific logical reasons science cannot address this issue:

1. A scientific explanation cannot be used to explain the universe because scientific explanations presuppose the universe.

2. Science cannot explain the origin of time and without time no explanation can be considered.

3. Coming-into-existence is not a process which can be reviewed and explained because it is an instantaneous event. Something either does or does not exist.

Second, the origin of the fundamental laws of nature. All scientific explanations presuppose these laws. We can conceive of a universe where these laws might be different resulting in a different reality, but we cannot explain how our universe came into being with the laws we see active around us.

Third, the fine-tuning of the universe to support life. As far as science is concerned the parameters of the forces within this universe can be observed but we cannot know what caused them to assume the values they do. However, in recent years it has been discovered that our universe “is a razor’s edge of precisely balanced life permitting conditions.”{16} Over one hundred parameters of this universe, such as the force of gravity, the charge of an electron, the rate of expansion of the universe, etc., must be precisely balanced or there could be no life in the universe. Science cannot answer the question of why our universe can support life.

Fourth, the origin of consciousness. In this context consciousness is the ability to be aware of oneself and entertain thoughts about things which are outside of oneself and possibly outside of one’s experience. From a naturalist point of view, “the appearance of mind is utterly unpredictable and inexplicable.”{17} However, God may choose to create conscious beings; beings that are capable of asking about and discovering the works of their creator.

Fifth, the existence of moral laws. As the late atheist philosopher Mackie admitted, the emergence of moral properties would constitute a refutation of naturalism and evidence for theism: “Moral properties constitute so odd a cluster of properties and relations that they are most unlikely to have arisen in the ordinary course of events without an all-powerful god to create them.”{18}

These five important questions can never be answered if scientism’s flawed premise were true. However, Christian theism answers each of these questions and those answers are true if God is the real creator of the universe.

Integrating Christianity and Science

Scientism claims that you cannot integrate Christianity and science. Instead, they claim all theology is nonsense and only science exists to give us the truth. As Moreland points out, “One of the effects of scientism, then, is making the ridicule of Christianity’s truth claims more common and acceptable (which is one of scientism’s goals).”{19}

If this view is clearly wrong, how should we as Christians view science and its relationship with Christianity and the Bible? First, we need to understand that the topics addressed by science are in most cases peripheral to the topics covered in the Bible. The Bible is primarily concerned with God’s efforts to restore people from their state as enemies of God back into eternal fellowship with Him.

One area of significant interaction is the question of how this universe came to exist in its current state. How one views that interaction (i.e. as adversarial or as complementary) depends on whether they are clinging to the unsupported myth of unguided evolution or to the new science of intelligent design. As Moreland states, “Science has done more to confirm the Christian God’s existence than to undermine it, and science has provided little or no evidence against belief of theism. Science has, however, raised challenges to various biblical texts, and Christians need to take those challenges seriously.”{20}

Moreland suggests there are five ways to relate issues in science and Christian philosophy. Let’s consider two of those methods. One is the complementarity model. In this model, two disciplines are addressing the same object or feature but from different, essentially non-overlapping perspectives. “Neither one purports to tell the whole story, but both make true claims about reality.”{21} This is the model used by advocates of theistic evolution who take as gospel the latest claims of evolutionary science while saying of course God kicked off the whole process including us in His plan for the universe.

Another way to interact is called the direct interaction model. In this model, theories from theology and from science may directly interact with one another on some topic, either positively or negatively. One area might raise rational difficulties for the other. This approach has the most potential for bringing information from different fields together into a fuller picture of truth. Intelligent design is an area where this model is applied as it questions the validity of eliminating intelligence from the options considered in understanding the development of life on earth.

Since scientism swears that science is the only source of truth, even when scientists cannot agree as to what that scientific truth is, they want to discount inputs from any other source no matter how helpful. So the direct interaction model is a difficult road to take. What are the rational criteria for going against the experts? Moreland suggests there are four criteria for Christian theologians to decide to take this road.

1. Make sure there is not a reasonable interpretation of the Bible that resolves the tension.

2. There is a band of academically qualified scholars who are unified in rejecting the view held by a majority of the relevant experts. In this way, we know that there are people who are familiar with the details of the majority view, who do not believe that it is true.

3. There are good non-rational explanations for why the expert majority holds the problematic view. For historical, sociological, or theological reasons, the majority is not ready to abandon their position rather than because their evidence is overwhelming. “For example, the shift from creationism to Darwinism was primarily, though not exclusively, a shift in philosophy of science.”{22}

Given the large amount of evidential support for a Christian worldview, any view that is counter to central components of a Christian worldview should be rejected precisely for that reason. Any view meeting the first three criteria that also attempts to undermine key parts of a Christian worldview will be overwhelmed by the significant rational support for a Christian worldview.

As followers of the God of real truth, Christians need to realize that the so-called truths being taught to justify science over theology are in fact myths and/or self-refuting statements. Every Christian needs to be able to address these fallacies in today’s popular science culture. Equip your young adults with this understanding and more by attending our summer event called Mind Games Camp. More information can be found at probe.org/mindgames.

Notes

1. Michael Keas, Unbelievable: 7 Myths About the History and Future of Science and Religion, ISI Books, 2019, 2.
2. Rodney Stark, How the West Won: The Neglected Story of the Triumph of Modernity, ISI Books, 2014 p. 304, 315.
3. J. P. Moreland, Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology, Crossway, 2018, 26 and 29.
4. Ibid., p. 23.
5. Ibid., p. 55.
6. Stark, p. 76.
7. Keas, p. 4 and Chapter 6.
8. Herman Bondi, Cosmology, Cambridge University Press, 1952.
9. Owen Gingerich, God’s Universe, Belknap Press, 2006.
10. Sagan, 1980 Cosmos TV series, episode 3.
11. Kepler, letter to Herwart von Hohenburg, April 9/10, 1599.
12. Moreland, p. 52.
13. Ibid., p. 131.
14. Ibid., p. 159.
15. Ibid., p. 138.
16. Ibid., p. 146.
17. Ibid., p. 151.
18. J. L. Mackie, The Miracle of Theism, Oxford, 1982, p. 115.
19. Moreland, p. 31.
20. Ibid., p.174.
21. Ibid., p. 184.
22. Ibid., p. 192.

©2019 Probe Ministries


Lessons from C.S. Lewis

Two issues which vex Christians today are moral subjectivism and the origin of the world. Through a couple of his recorded lectures, C.S. Lewis provides helpful insights and answers to the challenges we face.

The Poison of Subjectivism

C.S. Lewis was both a serious scholar who could tangle with the great minds of his day and a popular author who had the wonderful ability to write for children. Lewis, who died in 1963, is still an intellectual force who is well worth reading.

download-podcastI want to dig into Lewis’s thinking on a few subjects which are still applicable today. Studying writers like Lewis helps us love God with our minds.

Are Values Created by Us?

Let’s begin with a very pertinent issue today, that of subjectivism. Subjectivism is the belief that individual persons—or subjects—are the source of knowledge and moral values. What is true or morally good finds its final authority in people, not in an external source like God. Today there is more of an emphasis on groups of people rather than individuals. However, truth and morality arise from our own ideas or feelings.

Over the last few hundred years there have been many attempts to work out ethical systems that are grounded in our subjective states apart from God but somehow provide universal moral values. That project has been a failure. The individual is now left to his or her own devices to figure out how to live, except, of course, for laws of the state.

In a lecture titled “The Poison of Subjectivism,” Lewis scrutinizes subjectivist thinking with a special focus on what he calls “practical reason.” Practical reason is our capacity for deciding what to do, how to act. It has to do with judgments of value. It is different from theoretical reason which deals with, well, theories. Practical reason answers the question, What should I do?

It sounds odd today to talk about moral values as matters of reason since people tend more to go with what they feel is the right thing to do. But this is just the problem, Lewis says. “Until modern times,” he wrote, “no thinker of the first rank ever doubted that our judgements of value were rational judgements or that what they discovered was objective.”{1} In other words, matters of value have not always been separated from the realm of reason.

Lewis continues:

Out of this apparently innocent idea [that values are subjective] comes the disease that will certainly end our species (and, in my view, damn our souls) if it is not crushed; the fatal superstition that men can create values, that a community can choose its ‘ideology’ as men choose their clothes.{2}

Just as we don’t measure the physical length of something by itself, but rather use a measuring instrument such as a yardstick, we also need a moral “instrument” for deciding what is good or bad. Otherwise, what we do isn’t good or bad, it’s just . . . what we do.

Cultural Relativism

A prominent form of moral relativism today is cultural relativism. This is the belief that each culture chooses its own values regardless of the values other cultures choose. There is no universal moral norm. This idea is supposed to come from the observation that different cultures have different sets of values. A leap is made from there to the claim that that is how things should be.

We’re often tempted to counter such a notion with the simple answer that the Bible says otherwise. Lewis provides a good lesson in doing apologetics by subjecting the belief itself to scrutiny. Cultural relativism is based on the assumption that cultures are very different with respect to values. Lewis claims that all the supposed differences are exaggerated. The idea that “cultures differ so widely that there is no common tradition at all” is a lie, he says; “a good, solid, resounding lie.” He elaborates:

If a man will go into a library and spend a few days with the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics he will soon discover that massive unanimity of the practical reason in man. From the Babylonian Hymn to Samos, from the Laws of Manu, the Book of the Dead, the Analects, the Stoics, the Platonists, from Australian aborigines and Redskins, he will collect the same triumphantly monotonous denunciations of oppression, murder, treachery and falsehood, the same injunctions of kindness to the aged, the young, and the weak, of almsgiving and impartiality and honesty. He may be a little surprised . . . to find that precepts of mercy are more frequent than precepts of justice; but he will no longer doubt that there is such a thing as the Law of Nature. There are, of course, differences. . . . But the pretence that we are presented with a mere chaos . . . is simply false.{3}

Someone might ask whether the Fall of Adam and Eve made us incapable of knowing this law. But Lewis insists that the Fall didn’t damage our knowledge of the law as much as it did our ability to obey it. There is impairment, to be sure. But as he says, “there is a difference between imperfect sight and blindness.”{4}

We still have a knowledge of good and evil. The good that we seek is not found within the subject, within us. It is rooted in God. It is neither above God as a law He has to follow, nor is it a set of rules God arbitrarily made up. It comes from His nature. And, since we are made in His image, it suits our nature to live according to it.

Is Theology Poetry?

In 1944, Lewis was invited to speak at a meeting of the University Socratic Club at Oxford. The topic was, “Is Theology Poetry?”{5}

Lewis defines poetry here as, “writing which arouses and in part satisfies the imagination.” He thus restates the question this way: “Does Christian Theology owe its attraction to its power of arousing and satisfying our imagination?”{6}

Why would this question even be raised? This was the era of such scholars as Rudolph Bultmann who believed the message of the Bible was encrusted in supernatural ideas unacceptable to modern people. Bultmann wanted to save Christian truth by “demythologizing” it.

Some Problems

It has been assumed by some critics that until modern times people didn’t know the difference between reality and fantasy. But this is a condescending attitude. People know the difference for the most part, even premodern people—and even Christians! In fact, Lewis believes there are elements in Christian theology which work against it as poetry. He says, for example, that the doctrine of the Trinity doesn’t have the “monolithic grandeur” of Unitarian conceptions of God, or the richness of polytheism. God’s omnipotence, for another example, doesn’t fit the poetic image of the hero who is tragically defeated in the end.{7}

Critics point out that the Bible contains some of the same elements found in other religions—creation accounts, floods, risings from the dead—and conclude that it is just another example of ancient mythology. Lewis says there are notable differences. For example, in the pagan stories, people die and rise again either every year or at some unknown time and place, whereas the resurrection of Christ happened once and in a recognizable location.

However, we shouldn’t shy away from the fact that our theology will sometimes resemble mythological accounts. Why? Because we cannot state it in completely non-metaphorical, nonsymbolic forms. “God came down to earth” is metaphorical language, as is “God entered history.” “All language about things other than physical objects is necessarily metaphorical,” Lewis says.{8}

Did early Christians believe the metaphorical language of Scripture literally? Lewis says “the alternative we are offering them [between literal and metaphorical] was probably never present to their minds at all.”{9} While early Christians would have thought of their faith using anthropomorphic imagery, that doesn’t mean their faith was bound up with details about celestial throne rooms and the like. Lewis says that once the symbolic nature of some of Scripture became explicit, they recognized it for what it was without feeling their faith was compromised.

The Myth of Evolution

Lewis had a wonderful way of turning criticisms back on the critics. So they believe Christian doctrine is mythological because of its language? They should look to their own beliefs! These critics, Lewis says, believe “one of the finest myths which human imagination has yet produced,” the myth of blind evolution. This is how he describes this myth.{10}

The story begins with infinite void and matter. By a tiny chance the conditions are such to produce the first spark of life. Everything is against it, but somehow it survives. “With infinite suffering, against all but insuperable obstacles,” Lewis says, “it spreads, it breeds, it complicates itself, from the amoeba up to the plant, up to the reptile, up to the mammal. We glance briefly at the age of monsters. Dragons prowl the earth, devour one another, and die. . . . As the weak, tiny spark of life began amidst the huge hostilities of the inanimate, so now again, amidst the beasts that are far larger and stronger than he, there comes forth a little naked, shivering, cowering creature, shuffling, not yet erect, promising nothing, the product of another millionth millionth chance. Yet somehow he thrives.” He becomes the Cave Man who worships the horrible gods he made in his own image. Then comes true Man who learns to master nature. “Science comes and dissipates the superstitions of his infancy.” Man becomes the controller of his fate.

Zoom into the future, when a race of demigods rules the planet, “for eugenics have made certain that only demigods will be born, and psychoanalysis that none of them shall lose or smirch his divinity, and communism that all which divinity requires shall be ready to their hands. Man has ascended to his throne. Henceforward he has nothing to do but to practice virtue, to grow in wisdom, to be happy.”

The last scene in the story reverses everything. We have the Twilight of the Gods. The sun cools, the universe runs down, life is banished. “All ends in nothingness, and ‘universal darkness covers all.’”

“The pattern of the myth thus becomes one of the noblest we can conceive,” Lewis says. “It is the pattern of many Elizabethan tragedies, where the protagonist’s career can be represented by a slowly ascending and then rapidly falling curve, with its highest point in Act IV.”

“Such a world drama appeals to every part of us,” Lewis says. However, even though he personally found it a moving story, Lewis said he believed less than half of what it told him about the past and less than nothing of what it told him about the future.{11}

This kind of response to the critic of Christianity doesn’t prove that the critic is wrong. Just to show that he has his own mythology doesn’t prove he is wrong about Christianity. That’s called a tu quoque argument, which means “you too.” It serves, however, to make the critic hesitate before making simplistic charges against Christians. What is important about a belief system isn’t first of all whether it contains poetical elements. It’s whether it is true.

Naturalism and Reason

Having pointed out that the critic has his own mythology, Lewis examines another aspect of the issue, that of the reliability of reason, the primary tool of science.

Critics were purportedly looking at Christian doctrine from a scientific perspective. They believed that the findings of science made religious belief unacceptable. Lewis was no outsider to the atheistic mentality often found among scientists; he had been an atheist himself. Yet even as such, he didn’t have a triumphal vision of science as being the welcomed incoming tide that overtook the old mythological view of the world held by Christians. Lewis had accepted as truth the “grand myth” of evolution which I recounted previously, but he came to see a serious problem with it quite apart from any religious convictions. “Deepening distrust and final abandonment of it,” Lewis wrote, “long preceded my conversion to Christianity. Long before I believed Theology to be true I had already decided that the popular scientific picture at any rate was false.”{12} There was “one absolutely central inconsistency” that ruined it. This was the inconsistency of basing belief in evolution on human reason when the belief itself made reason suspect!{13}

What Lewis calls “the popular scientific view” or “the Scientific Outlook” is based on naturalism, the view that nature is all there is; there is no supernatural being or realm. Everything must be explained in terms of the natural order; the “Total System,” Lewis calls it.{14} If there’s any one thing that cannot be given a satisfactory naturalistic explanation, then naturalism falls.

Lewis contends that reason itself is something that can’t be explained in naturalistic terms. This is an especially pertinent matter, because reason is one of the primary tools of science, and science is the great authority for evolutionists.

Science, Lewis says, depends upon logical inferences from observed facts. Unless logical inference is valid, scientific study has no basis. But if reason is “simply the unforeseen and unintended by-product of mindless matter at one stage of its endless and aimless becoming,” how can we trust it? How do we know our thoughts reflect reality? How can we trust the random movement of atoms in our brain to reliably convey to us knowledge of the world outside us? “They ask me at the same moment to accept a conclusion,” Lewis says, “and to discredit the only testimony on which that conclusion can be based.”{15}

In short, then, if reason is our authority for believing in naturalistic evolution, but the theory of evolution makes us question reason, the whole theory is without solid foundation.

The science of the evolutionist cannot explain reason. Christianity, however, can. In fact, it explains much more than that. Lewis ends the lecture with one of his famous quotations, one that is hanging on my office door: “I believe in Christianity,” he says, “as I believe that the Sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”{16}

Notes

1. C. S. Lewis, “The Poison of Subjectivism,” in Christian Reflections (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967), 73.
2. Lewis, 73.
3. Lewis, 77.
4. Lewis, 79.
5. C. S. Lewis, in The Weight of Glory and Other Essays (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1980), 116.
6. Ibid., 117.
7. Ibid., 118.
8. Ibid., 133-34.
9. Ibid., 131.
10. Ibid., 123-25.
11. Ibid., 125-26.
12. Ibid., 134-35.
13. This argument is found at the end of “Is Theology Poetry?” A lengthier discussion is found in C. S. Lewis, Miracles: A Preliminary Study (New York: Macmillan, 1947), chap. 3.
14. Lewis, Miracles, 17.
15. Lewis, Weight of Glory, 135-36.
16. Ibid., 140.

© 2005 Probe Ministries


What Does It Mean To Live With an Eternal Perspective?

Sue Bohlin, who has been working on developing an eternal perspective for decades, provides some examples of how to do that.

Years ago, after spending his whole life on the mission field, a career missionary made his final trip home on a passenger ship. One of the other people on his sailing was a celebrity, and as the ship made its way into the harbor, all those on board beheld a huge throng of well wishers at the pier with signs and instruments to celebrate the famous person’s return.

The missionary stood at the railing, watching wistfully, knowing that not a soul was there for him. He said, “Lord, I’ve served You my whole life. Look at all the recognition and revelry for that famous person, and there’s nobody here for me. It hurts, Lord.”

He heard the still, small voice say, “You’re not home yet, son.”

I love this story that helps me keep in mind the big picture that includes the eternal, unseen realm, and the long picture that extends into the forever that awaits on the other side of death.

But how do we get an eternal perspective?

Seeing the Unseen

As I’ve grown older, 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 has become my new life verse:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

We have to work at seeing the unseen and eternal. We do that with the eyes of our hearts. We do that by training ourselves to view everything through the lens of God’s word.

I’ve been working at developing an eternal perspective for years. For me, it’s about connecting the dots between earthly things and heavenly things.

I look at earthly things and wonder, “How does this connect to the spirit realm? How does this connect to what is unseen and eternal?” (For examples, look at Glorious Morning Glories, Back Infections and Heart Infections, Cruise Ships, Roller Coasters and Attitudes, and Blowing Past Greatness.)

Jesus’ parables are the world’s best examples of using the physical to provide understanding of the eternal. He was always connecting the dots between the things He was surrounded by—different types of soil, lost coins and sheep and sons, a wedding banquet—and explaining how these things related to the Kingdom of Heaven.

Another aspect of seeing the unseen is staying aware of the fact that we live in a permanent battle zone of spiritual warfare. We have an enemy who hates us because He hates God, and is continually attacking us with lies and deceptions. When we forget that we live in a culture barraging us with anti-God anti-truth, it’s like going out in our underwear, needlessly exposing ourselves. Living with an eternal perspective means staying vigilant, donning our spiritual armor (Ephesians 6:10-18) and using it to fight back against the lies of the enemy.

One of the most important prayers we can ask is, “Lord, help me see Your hand at work”—and then intentionally looking for it. For years I have kept a “God Sightings” Journal where I record evidence of God intervening in my life and the lives of others I have seen. I love to ask my friends and mentees, “Do you have any God Sightings to share?” to help them identify the hand of God in their lives.

One final aspect of seeing the unseen is to remind ourselves that everything we can see, is going away. Everything we can see and measure is temporary and passing. So we need to think about what’s around us that is permanent and eternal, and invest in those things.

God.

People.

God’s word.

God’s work in people’s lives.

And the things we do to honor God and bless others. Randy Alcorn writes, “With eternity in view, nearly any honest activity-whether building a shed, driving a bus, pruning trees, changing diapers or caring for a patient-can be an investment in God’s kingdom.”

One of my friends is a TSA agent. She diligently reminds herself daily that every traveler who comes through the security line is infinitely valuable because they are made in the image of God, and Jesus died for them. She showers kindness on them because they are so important. One of her co-workers, for whom work is just a job where he punches a time clock, told her, “In two years you’ll stop being nice to everyone.” We don’t think so. She works at maintaining an eternal perspective, seeing the unseen, to the glory of God.

Remembering the Long View

Another aspect of living with an eternal perspective is focusing on the reality that our time on earth is short, especially compared to the never-ending life on the other side of death.

Another one of my favorite questions is to ask, “A hundred years from now, when you are face to face with Jesus in heaven, what do you want to be glad you chose today? Indulging your flesh and doing whatever you think will make you happy, or making choices that honor God and bless other people?”

In the scope of eternity, what does this matter?

Several years ago I wrote a blog post about one of the power tools for our “life tool belt” that remains an essential part of my eternal perspective: passing everything through the grid of the great question, “In the scope of eternity, what does this matter?”

In the decades since I started asking that question, it’s still the best filter for deciding what’s worth getting upset about, and what to let go, and what to just roll over into the Lord’s hands.

Moses was very helpful for helping us develop an eternal perspective. He writes in Psalm 90:10, “Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures.” So we need to be sober about how much time we actually have. Then he writes a great prayer in verse 12 that helps us remember the long view: “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

So I did.

As of today, I have lived 24,500 days.

If I live to be 70, I have only 1,050 days left.

If I live to be 80, I have only 4,700 days left.

Oh my word, I have so much earthly work to do in a very short time, before my life continues on the other side! And I so want to grow older well.

One way to do that is to pre-decide now that we will use our earthly days fully, engaged in ministry, as long as God gives us breath.

Years ago, my view of living with an eternal perspective was shaped by a lady who decided to start college in her 70s. When they asked her why she would do such a thing when her life was basically over, she said, “Oh no! It’s not over! I’m preparing for the next part of my life in heaven! The more equipped I can get on earth, the more ready I’ll be for what the Lord has for me on the other side!”

Another lady was homebound because she was so disabled. She got the word out that every afternoon, her home was open for anyone who needed prayer. Some days it was like there was a revolving door, so many coming and going! She had a vibrant ministry in the waning days of her life because she was determined to use her remaining earthly days fully, to the glory of God.

In the time you have now, live well. To the glory of God. Keep reminding yourself that everything we do now has an eternal impact. Our choices, our behaviors, our words, ripple into eternity. Which is why we need to seek to do everything for the glory of God.

I lettered this calligraphy and put it in a frame in my kitchen next to the coffee maker so I see it and recite it to myself every morning.

Two great questions to consider: “Lord, in order to live well, in order to live to Your glory, with an eternal perspective, what do You want me to do less of in the time I have left? And what do You want me to do more of?”

As a mom of littles, Nicole Johnson was feeling sorry for herself when she met with a friend who had just returned from Europe. She writes,

“My friend turned to me with a beautifully wrapped package, and said, ‘I brought you this.’ It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe. I wasn’t exactly sure why she’d given it to me until I read her inscription: ‘With admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees.’

“In the days ahead I would read—no, devour—the book. And I would discover what would become for me, four life-changing truths, after which I could pattern my work:

“1) No one can say who built the great cathedrals—we have no record of their names.
2) These builders gave their whole lives for a work they would never see finished.
3) They made great sacrifices and expected no credit.
4) The passion of their building was fueled by their faith that the eyes of God saw everything.

“There’s a story in the book about a rich man who came to visit the cathedral while it was being built, and he saw a workman carving a tiny bird on the inside of a beam. He was puzzled and asked the man, ‘Why are you spending so much time carving that bird into a beam that will be covered by the roof? No one will ever see it.’

“And the workman replied, ‘Because God sees it.’”

Living with an eternal perspective as we make choices and invest our time to glorify God is like building a cathedral that we won’t be able to see finished.

But every “next faithful step” of the tasks in your life, is building something. The things you do that no one sees but God—the unseen and eternal—they matter!

 

This blog post originally appeared at blogs.bible.org/what-does-it-mean-to-live-with-an-eternal-perspective/ on March 17, 2021.


The Liberal Mind

Kerby Anderson tries to understand the liberal mind from a biblical perspective. What are the assumptions the liberals make? How do those assumptions square with the Bible?

As we begin this discussion, I want to make a clear distinction between the terms “liberal” and “leftist.” We often use the terms interchangeably but there is an important difference.

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Dennis Prager wrote about this and even described those differences in a PragerU video.{1} His argument is that traditional liberalism has far more in common with conservatism than it does with leftism. Here are some examples he uses to make his point.

Liberals and leftists have a different view of race. The traditional liberal position on race is that the color of one’s skin is insignificant. By contrast, leftists argue that the notion that race is insignificant is itself racist. Liberals were committed to racial integration and would have rejected the idea of separate black dormitories and separate black graduations on university campuses.

Nationalism is another difference. Dennis Prager says that liberals always deeply believed in the nation-state. Leftists, on the other hand, oppose nationalism and promote class solidarity.

Superman comics illustrate the point. When the writers of Superman were liberal, Superman was not only an American but also one who fought for “Truth, justice, and the American way.” The left-wing writers of Superman comics had Superman announce a few years ago that he was going to speak before the United Nations and inform them that he was renouncing his American citizenship.

Perhaps the best example is free speech. American liberals agree with the statement: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend your right to say it.” Leftists today are leading a nationwide suppression of free speech everywhere from the college campuses to the Big Tech companies.

Capitalism and the free enterprise system would be yet another example. Dennis Prager says, “Liberals have always been pro capitalism,” though they often wanted government “to play a bigger role” in the economy. Leftists oppose capitalism and are eagerly promoting socialism.

Liberals have had a love of Western civilization and taught it at most universities. They were promoters of the liberal arts and fine arts. In fact, one of the most revered liberals in American history was President Franklin Roosevelt who talked about the need to protect Western Civilization and even Christian civilization.

Today Western Civilization classes are rarely if ever taught in the university. That’s because leftists don’t believe Western Civilization is superior to any other civilization. Leftists label people who attempt to defend western values as racist and accuse them of promoting white supremacy. And attempts to promote religious liberty are dismissed as thinly disguised attacks on the LGBT community.

In conclusion, liberals and leftists are very different.

Ethics and a Belief in Right and Wrong

The philosophical foundation for most liberal perspectives is secularism. If you don’t believe in God and the Bible, then you certainly don’t believe in biblical absolutes or even moral absolutes. Dostoyevsky put it this way: “If God is dead, then everything is permitted.”

Even atheists admit that a view of God affects human behavior. Richard Dawkins recently expressed his fear that the removal of religion would be a bad idea for society because it would give people “license to do really bad things.”

He likens the idea of God to surveillance, or as he puts it, the “divine spy camera in the sky.”{2} People generally tend to do the right thing when someone is watching them. They tend to do bad things when no one is watching. He goes go on to add that the “Great Spy Camera theory” isn’t a good reason for him to believe in God.

It is also worth mentioning that more and more young people aren’t making decisions about right and wrong based on logic but instead based on feelings. I began to notice this decades ago. College students making a statement or challenging a conclusion used to say “I think” as they started a sentence.” Then I started to see more and more of them say “I feel” at the
start of a sentence. They wouldn’t use reason to discuss an issue. Instead, they would use emotion and talk about how they felt about a particular issue.

The liberal mind also has a very different foundation for discussing right and wrong. Dennis Prager recently admitted that he had been wrong. All of his life, he has said that the left’s moral compass is broken. But he has concluded that “in order to have a broken moral compass, you need to have a moral compass to begin with. But the left doesn’t have one.”{3}

He doesn’t mean that conclusion as an attack. It is merely an observation that the left doesn’t really think in terms of good and evil. We assume that other people think that way because we think that way. But that is not how most of the people on the left perceive the world.

Karl Marx is a good example. He divided the world by economic class (the worker and the owner). One group was exploiting the other group. Good and evil aren’t really relevant when you are thinking in terms of class struggle. Friedrich Nietzsche, for example, operated “beyond good and evil.”

To the Marxists, “there is no such thing as a universal good or universal evil.” Those of us who perceive the world from a Judeo-Christian worldview see ethics as relevant to the moral standard, not the person or their social status.

A biblical view of ethics and morality begins with the reality that God exists and that He has revealed to us moral principles we are to apply to our lives and society. Those absolute moral principles are tied to God’s character and thus unchanging.

A Naïve View of Human Nature

In this article we are talking about the liberal mind, while often making a distinction between liberals and the left. When it comes to the proper view of human nature, both groups have a naïve and inaccurate view.

You can discover this for yourself by asking a simple question: Do you believe people are basically good? You will get an affirmative answer from most people in America because we live in a civilized society. We don’t have to deal with the level of corruption or terror that is a daily life in so many other countries in the world.

But if you press the question, you will begin to see how liberals have difficulty explaining the holocaust and Muslim terrorism. Because the liberal mind starts with the assumption that people are basically good. After all, that is what so many secular philosophers and psychologists have been saying for centuries. Two world wars and other wars during the 20th century should have caused most people to reject the idea that people are basically good.

The Bible teaches just the opposite. Romans 3:23 reminds us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” This statement about the deceitfulness of our heart may seem extreme until we realize that Jesus also taught that “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:19).

This naïve view of human nature should concern all of us. Young people, two generations after Auschwitz, believe people are basically good. One reason is biblical illiteracy. Another reason is historical illiteracy. A recent survey found two thirds of young people did not know six million died in the Holocaust and nearly half could not name one of the Nazi death camps.{4}

This naïve view of human nature may also explain another phenomenon we have discussed before. One of the untruths described in the book, The Coddling of the American Mind, is the belief that the battle for truth is “us versus them.”{5} If you think that people are basically good and you have to confront someone who disagrees with you, then they must be a bad person. They aren’t just wrong. They are evil.

Tribalism has been with us for centuries. That is nothing new about people joining and defending a tribe. But that has become more intense because of the rhetoric on university campuses and the comments spreading through social media. We don’t have to live this way, but the forces in society are making the divisions in society worse by the day.

A biblical perspective starts with the teaching that all are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27) and thus have value and dignity. But all of us have a sin nature (Romans 5:12). We should interact with others who disagree with us with humility (Ephesians 4:2) and grace (Colossians 4:6).

Big Government

We will now look at why liberals and the left promote big government. The simple answer relates to our discussion above about human nature. If you believe that people are basically good, then it is easy to assume that political leaders and bureaucrats will want to do the best for the citizens.

Christians agree that government is necessary and that it is one of the institutions ordained by God (Romans 13:1-7). There is a role for government to set the rules of governing and to resolve internal disputes through a legal system. Government is not God. But for people who don’t believe in God, then the state often becomes God.

Friedrich Hayek wrote about this drive toward big government and the bureaucratic state in his classic book, The Road to Serfdom. He argued in his book that “the most important change which extensive government control produces is a psychological change, an alteration in the character of the people.”{6}

The character of citizens is changed because they yield their will and decision-making to a more powerful government. They may have done so willingly in order to have a welfare state. Or they may have done so unwillingly because a dictator has taken control of the reins of power. Either way, Hayek argues, their character has been altered because the control over every detail of economic life is ultimately control of life itself.

Friedrich Hayek wrote The Road to Serfdom to warn us that sometimes the road can be paved with good intentions. Most government officials and bureaucrats write laws, rules, and regulations with every good intention. They desire to make the world a better place by preventing catastrophe and by encouraging positive actions from their citizens. But in their desire to control and direct every aspect of life, they take us down the road to serfdom.

He argued that people who enter into government and run powerful bureaucracies are often people who enjoy running not only the bureaucracy but also the lives of its citizens. In making uniform rules from a distance, they deprive the local communities of the freedom to apply their own knowledge and wisdom to their unique situations. A government seeking to be a benevolent god, usually morphs into a malevolent tyrant.

The liberal mind is all too willing to allow political leaders and bureaucrats to make decisions for the public. But that willingness is based on two flawed assumptions. First, human beings are not God and thus government leaders will certainly make flawed decisions that negatively affect the affairs of its citizens. Second, liberals do not believe we have a sin
nature (Romans 3:23), and that includes government leaders. Even the best of them will not always be wise, compassionate, and altruistic. This is why the founders of this country established checks and balances in government to limit the impact of sinful behavior.

Tolerance?

If there is one attitude that you would think would be synonymous with the liberal mind, it would be tolerance. That may have been true in the past. Liberalism championed the idea of free thought and free speech. That is no longer the case.

Liberals have been developing a zero-tolerance culture. In some ways, that has been a positive change. We no longer tolerate racism. We no longer tolerate sexism. Certain statements, certain jokes, and certain attitudes have been deemed off-limits.

The problem is that the politically correct culture of the left moved the lines quickly to begin to attack just about any view or value contrary to the liberal mind. Stray at all from the accepted limits of leftist thinking and you will earn labels like racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic.

Quickly the zero-tolerance culture became the cancel culture. It is not enough to merely label an opponent with a smear, the left demands that an “enemy” lose their social standing and even their job and livelihood for deviating from what is acceptable thought. A mendacious social media mob will make sure that you pay a heavy penalty for contradicting the fundamental truths of the liberal mind.

One phenomenon that promotes this intolerance is the use of smears and negative labels. For example, patriotism and pride in your country is called xenophobia. Acknowledging the innate differences between males and females is labelled sexist. Promoting the idea that we are all of one race (the human race) and that all lives matter is called racist. Questioning whether we should redefine traditional marriage is deemed homophobic. Arguing that very young children should not undergo sex assignment surgery is called transphobia. Pointing out that most terrorist attacks come from Muslim terrorists is labelled Islamophobic.

Should Christians be tolerant? The answer is yes, we should be tolerant, but that word has been redefined in society to argue that we should accept every person’s behavior. The Bible does not permit that. That is why I like to use the word civility. Essentially, that is the Golden Rule: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12).

Civility requires humility. A civil person acknowledges that he or she does not possess all wisdom and knowledge. That means we should listen to others and consider the possibility that they might be right, and we could be wrong. Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself.” We can disagree with other without being disagreeable. Proverbs 15:1 reminds us that “A gentle answer turns away wrath.”

This is an important principle as we try to understand the liberal mind and work to build bridges to others in our society.

Notes

1. Dennis Prager, Left or Liberal?, https://www.prageru.com/video/left-or-liberal/.
2. David Sanderson, “Ending religion is a bad idea, says Richard Dawkins,” The Times, October 5, 2019, www.thetimes.co.uk/article/ending-religion-is-a-bad-idea-says-richard-dawkins-sqqdbmcpq
3. Dennis Prager, “The Left’s Moral Compass Isn’t Broken,” September 15, 2020, townhall.com/columnists/dennisprager/2020/09/15/the-lefts-moral-compass-isnt-broken-n2576225.
4. Ryan Miller, “Almost two-thirds of millennials, Gen Z don’t know that 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, survey finds,” USA Today, September 16, 2020, www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/09/16/holocaust-history-millennials-gen-z-cant-name-concentration-camps/5792448002/.
5. Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff, et al., The Coddling of the American Mind: How
Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure
. New York City: Penguin Press, 2018, probe.org/coddling-of-the-american-mind/.
6. F.A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom: Text and Documents, the Definitive Edition, ed. Bruce Caldwell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 48.

©2020 Probe Ministries


No Reason to Fear: Examining the Logic of a Critic

Rick Wade uses the faulty arguments in Sam Harris’ book Letter to a Christian Nation to show why Christians don’t have to be afraid of the new atheists’ assault on our faith.

Getting Started

Sometimes we Christians shy away from books which attack our beliefs because we’re afraid we can’t answer the objections. That’s understandable. Often the authors of such books carry impressive credentials. It’s easy to feel intimidated.

download-podcastAnother response which is the opposite of fearful avoidance is haughty dismissal. Sometimes we act as if our position is so obviously true that others can be dismissed as downright stupid and hardly worth bothering with. Even if the opponents’ arguments are bad, that’s no reason to adopt an arrogant attitude. It’s especially bad when the dismissive Christian hasn’t even bothered to read the book!

A better response, I think, is to use such occasions to grow in understanding and to exercise one’s apologetic “muscles” by working at answering the challenges posed. So, for example, when a doctrine is challenged, by studying the subject, we grow in our knowledge of Christian beliefs and (here’s the uncomfortable part) we are sometimes corrected in our understanding. Another advantage is preparation for real face-to-face encounters with critics. Responding to arguments in a book means there isn’t the pressure of a person staring at you, waiting for an answer (and fully expecting one; critics do have such a high view of us!).

In this article I’m going to use Sam Harris’s book Letter to a Christian Nation to give some suggestions about what to look for in such books.{1} I won’t try to address every challenge. Others have given more extensive responses.{2}

I titled this essay “No Reason to Fear” for a good reason. The challenges of critics throughout the ages have not been able to prove Christianity false, and those of modern day critics won’t either. Most of their arguments have already been answered. When we brace ourselves and start reading a critic’s book, we often find that the arguments don’t pack that great a punch after all, much like the neighborhood bully who the other boys are afraid of but really have no reason to be.

Of course, we can’t always answer seemingly good objections, and certainly can’t answer them all to the atheist’s satisfaction. I’ll go further than that. I don’t think we have to answer every objection. There will always be objections. But it’s as intellectually wrong to drop one’s convictions because of a few unanswered criticisms as it is to hold to such convictions for no reason at all. Atheists obviously don’t abandon their beliefs so easily, and they shouldn’t expect us to either.

Fallacious Arguments

If we’re going to engage books like Letter to a Christian Nation responsibly, we have to be ready to hear some good criticisms of our beliefs or actions. We have to accept the fact that there are some hard things to deal with in our beliefs, especially the problem of evil. We need to admit our inability to give satisfying answers to all objections if we’re going to expect that kind of openness from critics. Also, it is often Christians who come under attack rather than Christianity. Harris spends a lot of time here. Christians have done some bad things, and they need to be acknowledged.

More to the point for this article, Christians can sometimes give bad arguments for what they believe. I’m not suggesting that we have to bow to all the demands of skeptics; there are several theories of the proper use of evidences and logical arguments and personal experience, and some formulations are unreasonable. It is to say, however, that we must use good reasoning when we make a case.

The problem with using poor reasoning is that it undermines one’s case. That’s what we find in Harris’s book, and that will be our focus here. When we read a case for a particular belief, we should keep a lookout for such things as questionable assumptions, logical fallacies, and incorrect facts. Harris’s book is plagued with fallacious arguments, a surprising turn since he presents his side as being that of reason. So I’m going to spend most of my time on those and mention the other things when appropriate.

Don’t let the term “logical fallacies” put you off, like they’re things only specialists can understand. It’s just another name for poor reasoning. So, for example, if you make the claim that Christianity is the only true religion, and someone responds that you only believe that because you grew up in a Christian nation, you could cry “Foul!” You’re making a universal claim; where you’re from is irrelevant. If it’s true, it’s true in India and China and the US and everywhere else, too. This is a kind of fallacy of false cause. No one is a Christian because he lives in a Christian nation. We are Christians because we have believed Jesus’ claims that are universal. It also reflects the current mood according to which religions are human constructs, and Christianity is just one such religion among many.

Although fallacious arguments can have psychological force (when we don’t spot them and they seem correct), they have no logical force. Their conclusions should not be believed.

Are We Really So Evil?

Harris’s favorite target in his attack on religion is its supposed immorality. He tells us that “Christians have abused, oppressed, enslaved, insulted, tormented, tortured, and killed people in the name of God for centuries, on the basis of a theologically defensible reading of the Bible.”{3}Well, that’s a surprise! Not that Christians have done bad things, but that such acts are theologically defensible! Such things are sanctioned by God because He, too, does such things. Harris accuses Christians of picking and choosing sections of Scripture that present a more loving God while ignoring the truly telling ones which reveal a God who condones slavery and the beating and killing of rebellious children.

But Harris is guilty of this picking and choosing himself. He commits the fallacy which is called the neglect of relevant evidence. To be fair, he does note that “it is undeniable that many people of faith make heroic sacrifices to relieve the suffering of other human beings.”{4} But he doesn’t bother listing them. He gives no space to the great work done by Christians in the fields of medicine, literacy, agriculture, famine relief, etc. He ignores the good work of organizations like Mercy Ships which takes life-changing medical help to people in third world nations in the name of Christ.

Well, he doesn’t completely ignore missionary efforts. One of his favorite rants is against the evils perpetrated by missionaries. They waste time preaching about such things as the virgin birth when there is important work to be done. The most memorable accusation is when he charges missionaries who preach against the use of condoms with “genocidal” piety!{5} “Genocidal!” Maybe a little exaggeration there? (And, by the way, while it’s true that Christian medical missionaries do present the gospel to people—which they should, since one’s eternal life is more important than one’s temporal life—I’ve never heard of any who withhold medical help from people in need until they first preach a sermon on the virgin birth.)

In another place Harris commits the fallacy called causal oversimplification. As he sees it, religion is the cause of conflicts in Palestine, the Balkans, Sudan, Nigeria, and other countries. Religion is so unnatural and wrong-headed to atheists, that it becomes an easy target for casting blame.

I’m going to give a bit more space to this charge since it’s a very popular one these days.

In 2004, the BBC published what it called a “War Audit” which was conducted to determine how significant religion has been in war, at least in the last century.{6} In the article “God and War: An Audit and an Exploration,” authors Greg Austin, Todd Kranock and Thom Oommen report that

at a philosophical level, the main religious traditions have little truck with war or violence. All advocate peace as the norm and see genuine spirituality as involving a disavowal of violence. It is mainly when organised religious institutions become involved with state institutions or when a political opposition is trying to take power that people begin advocating religious justifications for war.

They continue:

After reviewing historical analyses by a diverse array of specialists, we concluded that there have been few genuinely religious wars in the last 100 years. The Israel/Arab wars from 1948 to now, often painted in the media and other places as wars over religion, or wars arising from religious differences, have in fact been wars of nationalism, liberation of territory or self-defense.

Regarding Islamic terrorism, the authors write:

The Islamist fundamentalist terror war is largely about political order in the Arab countries, and the presence of US forces in Saudi Arabia. It is not about religious conversion or a clash of religions. Nevertheless, bin Laden claims a religious duty in executing the war. . . .

It is mainly when organised religious institutions become involved with state institutions that people begin advocating religious justifications for war.

We need to go back to the wars of Arab expansion, the Crusades and the Reformation Wars for genuine wars over religion.

The authors—or as they call themselves, compilers—of this article include tables which give death tolls in different categories of wars. The writers say that the tables

show that the overwhelming majority of wars and the overwhelming majority of the victims of such wars cannot be classified primarily according to religious causes or religious beliefs. There have been horrific examples though where particular communities have been targeted because of their religious faith [italics mine], and these atrocities have been perpetrated by the three most 17 vicious and blood-thirsty regimes ever to hold power: Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China and Hitler’s Germany.

It’s interesting that Harris tries so hard to make religion a source of violence when, as this report indicates, it is often the religious who are targeted by violence.{7}

A Few More

Sam Harris’s book is titled Letter to a Christian Nation, not simply because he’s against Christianity. He wants all religion to come to an end. It just happens that Christianity is the most prominent religion in America. Because he lumps all religions together, he can smear Christianity with the evils of Islam by implication.

This is a fallacy. It’s called the fallacy of over-generalization (or converse accident). If evil is done in the name of Islam, and Islam is a religion, then every religion is prone to evil. Thus, what counts against Islam counts against Christianity, too. (If one is reluctant to group Christianity with other religions, then one might see here the fallacy of faulty comparison, or what is more commonly called “comparing apples to oranges.”)

Another argument Harris presents employs a fallacy we’ve already discussed, the fallacy of causal oversimplification. Harris commits this fallacy when he tells us that “the anti-Semitism that built the Nazi death camps was a direct inheritance from medieval Christianity.”{8}

The reality of Christian anti-Semitism through the ages cannot be denied. However, Harris’s evaluation is simplistic. It is very easy to narrowly focus on the very real anti-Semitism of Christians and ignore other very significant factors. For example, Harris fails to tell us that the Jews were persecuted quite apart from Christianity and even before Christianity came into existence. For example, serious tensions between the Jews and the Greeks of Alexandria in the first century B.C. spilled over into the next century. Things got so bad that Jews were forced to live in one section of the city. Their houses were broken into and looted. Synagogues were burned, and women were dragged to the theater and forced to eat pork. Historian H. I. Bell reports that “men, women, and even children [were] beaten to death, dragged living through the streets, or flung on to improvised bonfires.”{9} He also ignores the shift from religious persecution to racial persecution which occurred in the nineteenth century, notably in Russia.

Of course, this doesn’t prove that Hitler didn’t get his anti-Semitism from Christians; but it does mean that one should not immediately assume that Christian prejudice is at the root of anti-Semitism. There have been other causes as well. A significant factor in Hitler’s hatred of the Jews was the strong influence of Darwinism that led him to think that people who were racially or eugenically inferior needed to be eliminated from the evolving human race.{10}

Although some people already believed in the inferiority of some races, and although Darwinism wasn’t Hitler’s sole inspiration, Historian Richard Weikart writes, “Darwinism was a central, guiding principle of Nazi ideology, especially of Hitler’s own world view.” Weikart quotes Richard Evans, a historian at Cambridge University: “The real core of Nazi beliefs lay in the faith Hitler proclaimed in his speech of September 1938 in science—a Nazi view of science—as the basis for action. Science demanded the furtherance of the interests not of God but of the human race, and above all the German race and its future in a world ruled by ineluctable laws of Darwinian competition between races and between individuals.” Weikart continues: “This is not a controversial claim by anti-evolutionists, but it is commonly recognized by scholars who study Nazism.”{11}

A Fundamental Commitment to Atheism

One of the questionable assumptions in Letter to a Christian Nation is Sam Harris’s assertion that “there is no question that human beings evolved from nonhuman ancestors.”{12} Of course, there is indeed a question about this, a question raised by highly educated scientists easily as qualified as Mr. Harris.

It’s no wonder, really, that Harris makes such bold statements. He is prevented from allowing the possibility of divine creation by his basic worldview commitments. He admits that he doesn’t know why the universe exists, but he’s confident there’s no God behind it. That sounds like a philosophical presupposition. What evidence or reasons does he give for it? Harris might like to pretend that his beliefs are based solely on the “trinity” of science, reason, and nature, but his naturalism cannot be established by these. Rather, it informs his use of them.

One of the (potentially!) maddening things about the arguments of atheists these days is their frequent silence with respect to any justification of their own basic worldview commitments. Harris goes so far as to claim that atheism isn’t really a belief; that there shouldn’t even be the word “atheism.”{13} Although “atheism” has long been understood to mean the belief that there is no God, many atheists today deny that. It isn’t the belief that there is no God; it’s simply an absence of belief in God.{14} It’s a kind of “default” position, a “zero” belief, where everyone should be until given sufficient reasons to believe in God. Thus, the atheist has nothing to defend or prove.

But really, folks. Who’s going to believe that atheists are belief-less about God, that they don’t actually believe that there is no God? It’s astonishing the effort they put forth in arguing against religious belief if indeed they have no belief at all.

However, we can go back and forth with atheists about whether they truly deny the existence of God, or we can let that stand and simply ask what they do believe about ultimate reality, for surely they believe something. It’s simply false to assume that atheism is some kind of zero belief, that it involves no metaphysical commitments. If one denies God, one must have some other view about ultimate reality. Naturalism is a metaphysical position, and it has serious problems of its own.{15} If Christians are responsible to give good reasons for their belief in Christian theism, naturalistic atheists must give reasons for their naturalism.

Sam Harris speaks as a voice on high, shouting down to us poor, ignorant people who are stuck in our absurd religious beliefs. It’s hard to imagine anyone with thoughtful convictions changing his or her beliefs based on this book. He’s preaching to the choir. Now that you have a few tips on what to look for, you might want to take a look at the book, and hear the rest of the “sermon.”

Notes

1. Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006).
2. Douglas Wilson addresses many of Harris’s arguments in his Letter from a Christian Citizen (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2007) and Ravi Zacharias does the same in The End of Reason: A Response to the New Atheists (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008).
3. Ibid., 22.
4. Ibid., 22.
5. Ibid., 33-34.
6. Greg Austin, Todd Kranock and Thom Oommen, “God And War: An Audit & An Exploration,” http://tinyurl.com/a2tpb.
7. For more on this subject, see also Don Closson, “The Causes of War,” Probe Ministries, 2008, www.probe.org/the-causes-of-war/.
8. Harris, Letter, 41.
9. H. I. Bell, “Anti-Semitism in Alexandria,” The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 31. (1941), pp. 1-18.
10. Richard Weikart, From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004).
11. Richard Weikart, “Re-examining the Darwin-Hitler Link,” The Discovery Institute, http://www.evolutionnews.org/2008/02/reexamining_the_darwinhitler_l.html.
12. Harris, Letter, 71.
13. Ibid., 51.
14. See Michael Martin, Atheism: A Philosophical Justification, (Temple University Press, 1990), 463.
15. See Norman Geisler, Is Man the Measure? An Evaluation of Contemporary Humanism (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983), chap. 11.

© 2008 Probe Ministries


What a Biblical Worldview Looks Like

Sue Bohlin explores elements of a way of looking at life that provides a biblical world and life view.

What Is a Worldview?

A young Christian couple I know married with high hopes for the future. Within three years they were divorced; the husband handled his hatred for his job by snapping at his wife and retreating to online gaming, and the wife shut down her heart to him and opened it to someone else.

Download the PodcastIn her book Total Truth, Nancy Pearcey tells of a Christian lawyer whose job was to find loopholes in the contracts with clients his law firm wanted to get rid of—that is, which enabled his company to break promises.{1} She tells another story of a Christian who worked at an abortion facility and never saw any conflict between the Bible she studied and its command not to murder.{2}

This disconnect between biblical teaching and the way it’s lived out is not just an American problem. Many African Christians go to church on Sundays and pray to Jesus for healing or prosperity, but when He doesn’t answer the way they wanted, they go to the village witch doctor.

All these people profess to be Christ-followers and agree that the Bible is the Word of God, yet they don’t view reality or live out their lives as if Jesus were Lord and the Bible is true. They don’t have a biblical worldview. They don’t “think Christianly.”

Nancy Pearcey writes, “‘Thinking Christianly’ means understanding that Christianity gives the truth about the whole of reality, a perspective for interpreting every subject matter.”{3} It means we learn to interpret everything in light of its relationship to God. The title of Nancy’s book, Total Truth, reflects her premise: that Christianity is not just a collection of religious truths, it is total truth. Thinking Christianly—which equips us to then live out a biblical worldview—means we understand that natural and supernatural are seamlessly woven into one reality.

Our worldview is like an invisible pair of glasses through which we see reality and life. If we have the wrong prescription, the wrong beliefs and assumptions, what we see will be fuzzy and undependable. If we have the right prescription, we will see things as they are. The prescription of these glasses consists of our beliefs and the things we assume to be true. These beliefs and assumptions comprise the filter through which we experience and interpret life. And we all have a filter.

For example, let’s say you walk into a Walmart and discover you are their zillionth customer. Balloons drop, strobe lights go off, and you are handed a $1000 gift card, a trip to Disneyworld, and the keys to a new car. Your worldview will determine how you interpret that event. If you believe in fate, you will think, “It’s my lucky day! The stars are shining on me!” If you believe in only this physical, material universe, you will think, “Nice, but it’s a totally random and meaningless occurrence.” If you believe that Jesus is Lord over everything, you will think, “I so do not deserve this gift of grace, but I thank You for it, Lord. How do You want me to be a good steward of this amazing blessing?”

Everyone has a worldview, even though most people aren’t aware of it. We believe a biblical worldview is the right prescription for both living and understanding life.

Creation, Fall, and Redemption

My friend Dr. Jeff Myers of Summit Ministries says, “[A] person’s worldview is his default answers to life’s most pressing questions: Where did I come from? How should I live? What happens when I die?, and How do I know my answers to these questions are true?”{4}

We all buy into an overarching story that explains much of why things are the way they are. For example, people who believe in traditional folk religion (animism) believe there are spirits connected to every physical item and event and place, and this way of looking at life shapes their response to the things that happen in life. People who embrace pantheism—a view of life that sees everything connected as part of a divine but impersonal force with no personal God and no distinctions between good and evil—will respond differently.

If we draw our worldview from the story of God’s dealing with mankind from the Bible, a helpful way to structure it is terms of creation, fall, and redemption. They answer the big three universal questions: Where did we come from? Why are things so messed up? How can it be fixed? Everything that exists and everything that happens falls into one of these categories.

Creation answers the question, where did we come from? as well as a basic philosophical question, why is there something rather than nothing at all? God created us in His image for the purpose of having a relationship with us, and He created the universe and our world as well. This explains the exquisite design we see in the human body, right down to the molecular machines inside cells. Creation explains why the earth is so finely tuned for life—just the right distance from just the right kind of star and the right kind of moon, just the right temperature for liquid water, just the right kind of atmosphere for us to breathe.

The relational God, whose very being consists of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, created us in His image to draw us into the circle of divine mutual love and fellowship and delight. The reason we are here is so God could lavish love on us by sharing Himself with us and inviting us to participate in the divine life. That explains why we are so relational, and why we need and enjoy other people. It explains why we are hard-wired to be spiritual—because He made us for Himself, and He is spirit. He created the universe and our planet as an expression of His love and glory, and because physical people need a physical place to live. A beautiful God creating us in His image explains why we love beauty in the world, in art, in music, and in every other expression of human culture.

The Fall answers the question, what went wrong? Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God brought sin into His marvelous creation, resulting in brokenness, blindness, and nothing working the way it did in the perfect, pre-fall world. The fall explains why death feels so unnatural, why there is suffering and sickness. It explains why there is moral evil like murder, rape and theft, and why there is natural evil like earthquakes and tsunamis and tornadoes. Many people are angry at God at these things. But they are all effects of the fall. He didn’t create the world this way; we’re the ones who messed it up. This fallen world breaks His heart far more than it breaks ours.

The good news is Redemption. God is working to set things right and restore His damaged, distorted creation. This explains why our souls long for justice, for the wicked to face the consequences of their evil choices, and for things to be fair and right. A just God will fulfill our longing for justice. He will make the wrongs right and the shattered whole. Good will triumph over evil once and for all. God’s promise of restoration explains why we still long for the perfection of Eden, even while we live immersed in a world and relationships that are far from perfect: He’s going to bring it back. The Lord Jesus Christ, who came to earth as fully God and fully man, living as one of us and then dying in our place, rising again, and ascending back to the Father’s right hand, promises He is making all things new (Rev. 21:5). God’s got a plan and He’s working it!

Living in Two Worlds

One of my favorite things to do is go snorkeling in the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean. When I’m wearing a mask and a snorkel tube, I can float on the water’s surface and enjoy the beautiful fish and corals that live in the underwater world. But I can also breathe air from the above-water world. When I’m snorkeling, I get to enjoy two worlds, two spheres of life, at the same time.

This is a picture of what it looks like to live out a biblical worldview. Paul exhorts us to focus “not [on] the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18). We live in a physical world, but looking at life biblically also means living in awareness of the unseen, eternal spiritual reality that also surrounds us. Many believers make the mistake of living as if they were functional naturalists—as if the material, physical world were all there is.

Thinking biblically means staying aware and focused on the spiritual and eternal part of life, letting that guide our interpretation of physical and temporal events. That doesn’t mean dismissing or denying the physical, living like some sort of ascetic who refuses to engage with the world; we just keep it in perspective.

I believe this is what the Lord Jesus intended when He said to “seek first the Kingdom of God” (Matt. 6:33). The physical world is so in-your-face about its reality—especially when we get tired, hungry, thirsty every day—that we don’t have any trouble being aware of this sphere of life. But focusing on (or even just staying aware of) the unseen, eternal part of life, like donning snorkel gear and going face-down in the water, allows us to function in both worlds at the same time. Next time you’re in a group where people share prayer requests, pay attention to how many of them are in the physical realm: health, finances, jobs, etc. These things are important, but according to Jesus’ priorities, the Kingdom —the unseen realm where He is Lord—is more important. I wonder what would happen if our prayer requests started reflecting this priority?

The seventeenth century monk Brother Lawrence lived out an important spiritual discipline he called “practicing the presence of God.” When we do this, we are able to process the heartbreak of living in a fallen world and the apparent unfairness of what looks like evil winning. When we read what the prophet Habbakuk wrote, and what Asaph recorded in Psalm 73, we see what it looks like to remember that God is sovereign, and He is able to make all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28). It helps us see all people as beloved image bearers for whom Christ died, even the jerks who cut us off in traffic. It helps us remember that what may feel like a bizarre random event may actually be the attack of spiritual warfare. It helps us balance our now-fallen feelings, which were impacted by the Fall like everything else, with the truth of God’s word. For example, one Christian woman filed for divorce from her husband with no biblical grounds, claiming that it must be okay since she didn’t feel “convicted by God.”

Thinking biblically means cultivating an awareness of the spiritual realm: the eternally important things, and the activity of God, angels, and demons. It’s like going through life wearing snorkel gear!

Refusing the Sacred/Secular Split

Have you ever heard someone saying something like, “Well, I personally oppose abortion, but I would never say that it’s wrong for anyone else because that’s a private issue.” Or, do you give ten percent of what you think of as your money to the Lord because that’s His portion? Do you think of your spiritual life as time spent reading the Bible and going to church, but the rest of the week is yours? One of the ways Christians fail to live out a biblical worldview is when we buy into the false division of the sacred and the secular.

Thinking biblically means not only believing that Jesus is Lord at the moment of our deaths, but He is also Lord over every aspect of our lives and every aspect of His creation. He created this world, He owns it, He entered it, and He redeemed it. He created us in His image, and then commanded us to take the salt and light of our image-bearing influence into every aspect of life: business, science, law, education, politics, and art, to name a few. The “Creation Mandate” is found in Genesis 1:2:

God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (emphasis mine).

Let’s look at some examples:

• I’ve had a freelance calligraphy business for thirty years. Beyond showing honesty and integrity in my business dealings, there is also value in the beauty I bring into people’s lives through my hand lettering as a reflection of God’s beauty.

• All of my husband Ray’s education is in biology. He lives out his biblical worldview by seeking to explore and understand God’s creation through science, then explaining it to others in a way that gives glory to God.

• Christian educators who express a biblical worldview are teaching about God’s world and God’s truths whether they mention Him or not. Whether it’s the glorious patterns of mathematics or the themes of great literature, the Lordship of Christ ties it all together.

• My son’s undergraduate education was in art, and we loved seeing how he wove his biblical worldview into his art pieces. He suggests that a Christian artist has the opportunity to express both the brokenness of life in a fallen world as well as the hope and redemption found in Christ.

• Christians in law can live out their biblical worldview by using their knowledge of the law to create protection for the weak and defenseless, to criminalize criminal behavior, and to codify making restitution, all of which are biblical values.

One element of living out a biblical worldview is refusing to compartmentalize life into our religious activities and then everything else, as if spiritual truth and concepts were unrelated to how we live our lives. One of my dear friends has lived in moral and emotional purity for three years after repenting of her lesbian relationship. The temptation can be strong some days, but she consistently chooses Jesus over her feelings. One day her supervisor, who goes to a large church, asked if she were gay. My friend replied that she used to claim a gay identity, but she’s been emotionally and sexually sober for three years. Her supervisor asked why, and my friend said, “Because it’s sin! It’s not God’s design or intention.”

“Oh, it’s not sin!” her supervisor cheerfully assured her. “God wants you to be happy! You just need to find the right girl and settle down.” My friend is living out a biblical worldview; her Christian supervisor , who most definitely does not, relegates the Bible to religious topics that don’t intersect with where the rest of life is lived. (Not only that: the Enemy used the supervisor’s lies and wrong beliefs to harass my friend as part of an all-out spiritual warfare attack.)

Jesus is Lord, and He loves and provides for His creation through people, whether we are delivering milk or delivering babies, serving in the military or the government, growing corn or managing hedge funds, raising our family or even serving in ministry. It’s all God’s work and we get to share in it (1 Cor. 3:9). Just as we can’t divide colors into sacred and secular, we shouldn’t do it with the rest of life either.

Processing Life Through a Biblical Worldview

I said earlier that a worldview is like a pair of glasses that is comprised of our beliefs and assumptions through which we see and interpret life. My husband, Ray, and I got a chance to put our biblical worldview into practice a few years ago when someone ran a red light and slammed into his car. He sustained a concussion but, miraculously, no cuts or scratches or broken anything. It took almost a year for him to recover from both the impact on his body and the mental fuzziness of his concussion.

As we processed this accident and the difficulties that unfolded from it, we experienced the wisdom that comes from interpreting life according to the truth of God’s word. Other worldviews would have interpreted this experience differently:

• Naturalism, the belief that the physical world is all there is, and there is no spiritual or supernatural component to life, would say, “Ray was in a car wreck, but there’s no meaning to it. It was just another accident; everything is an accident without purpose. Whether he survived or had been killed, ultimately that wouldn’t make any difference anyway since all of life is a random, meaningless existence.”

• Pantheism, the belief that all of life is a spiritual reality and the physical world is an illusion, would say, “Ray, his car, the other driver, and her car, are all part of ‘the one,’ the unifying essence of the universe. All of these particulars are an illusion, since there is only one reality where everything and everyone is divine.” And since many pantheists also share many of Eastern mysticism’s beliefs, we would hear, “Ray must have done something terrible in a previous life to have experienced this trauma in this life. He was working off his bad karma from an earlier existence.”

• Traditional folk religion (Animism), the belief that the spirit world is constantly manipulating life in the physical world, because there is a spirit or spiritual force behind every event, might say, “Ray must have made some spirit angry with him. He needs to say some magic words or burn some incense or build an altar or do something to get the angry spirit to not be angry with him anymore.”

Since we seek to make the truth of God’s word the pair of glasses through which we view life, our filter includes the question, what does God say about this? Together, we practiced responding to this trauma according to our Christian worldview.

The most important truth was that God exists, and He has revealed Himself to be all-powerful and all-knowing. That means that getting “t-boned” was not a random accident that just happened. We reminded ourselves that He was still sovereign; a loving God was in control, even though He allowed Ray to get hit and his car totaled by a driver without insurance. God is all-powerful and could have prevented the accident, but for some reason He didn’t. We determined to trust Him even though He wasn’t explaining Himself.

This was a very bad car wreck, and the witnesses couldn’t believe he wasn’t killed instantly. Instead, he was protected from serious injury. We have thanked God many times for His amazing protection that resulted in 100% recovery.

Ray experienced very real pain and suffering, but we know from the Bible where that comes from: the fall of man is responsible for most pain and all suffering. He was not troubled by the possibility that his suffering might be meaningless because there was no one “up there” or “out there” giving meaning to it, like the view of life that atheists and agnostics have to face.

Ray’s car wreck had a special impact on me. At the time, I was dealing with my fear for my son’s safety since he was about to enter the Air Force during a war. Because Ray’s car wreck happened just three blocks from home, God impressed on me that His protection has nothing to do with geography. The best place to be, the safest place to be, is in God’s hand, and He has promised that no one can snatch us from His hand (John 8:28-29). I sensed Him impressing me that I could trust Him with my son the same way He protected my husband from lasting damage.

I hope this article helps you grow in your ability to think biblically so you can see life as it really is—one reality comprised of both the physical and spiritual, God’s world, God’s life—that He invites you into.

Notes

1. Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2004), 31.
2. Ibid., 97-98.
3. Ibid., 34.
4. Email from Dr. Jeff Myers, April 19, 2011.

© 2011 Probe Ministries


Worldviews Through History – Compared to a Christian View

Kerby Anderson provides a summary of how mankind has viewed the world from the Romans until today. This summary provides us a perspective against which to compare and contrast a Christian, biblical worldview based on New Testament principles.

Roman Worldview

On the Probe Web site we often talk about worldviews. I want to explain how the worldviews we talk about developed through history. We will be using as our foundation an excellent book written by Professor Glenn Sunshine whom I have met and also had the privilege of interviewing. His book is Why You Think the Way You Do: The Story of Western Worldviews from Rome to Home.{1}

Glenn Sunshine is a member of the church that Jonathan Edwards attended when he was at Yale. Professor Sunshine gave a lecture about Jonathan Edward’s worldview at a conference they held, and Chuck Colson invited him to teach with the Centurions program. He gave a talk about “How We Got Here” and then later turned it into Why You Think the Way You Do.

Since we will be talking about worldview, it would be good to begin with Glenn Sunshine’s definition. “A worldview is the framework you use to interpret the world and your place in it.”{2} You do not need to be a philosopher to have a worldview. All of us have a worldview.

Although Glenn Sunshine begins with the worldview of the Roman world, he quickly takes us back to neo-Platonism. It was the religion and philosophy based upon Plato’s ideas. Neo-Platonism was the belief that the fundamental ground of reality is non-physical. Instead it is found in the world of ideas (and is known as idealism). These ideas cast shadows that cast other shadows until they arrive at the physical world.

According to this worldview, the whole universe exists as a hierarchy. The spiritual is superior to the physical. This provides a scale of values for the world, but also provides a scale for humanity. In other words, those who are superior should rule over those who are inferior because they have demonstrated their ability to rule or conquer.

This view of hierarchy led to the idea of the father having superiority over all members of the family. It led to the idea that men are superior to women. It led to the idea that the emperor should rule and be worshipped. And it led to the idea that slaves are inferior to free people and nothing more than “living tools.”{3}

This explains not only the success of Rome but also its ugly underside. Essentially there are two pictures of Rome: “the glittering empire and the rotten core.”{4}

In Rome, human life did not have much value. While it is true that Romans abandoned human sacrifice, they engaged in other practices equally abhorrent. “They picked up the Etruscan practice of having people fight to the death in games in honor of the dead.”{5}

Slavery provided the economic foundation for the empire. Abortion and infanticide were regularly practiced. “Roman families would usually keep as many healthy sons as they had and only one daughter; the rest were simply discarded.”{6} And Roman law required that a father kill any visibly deformed child.

Transformation of the Pagan World

How did Christianity transform the pagan world? In AD 303, the Roman emperor Diocletian began a severe persecution of Christians. But because Christians were faithful and even willing to go to their deaths for their beliefs, their credibility increased. Eventually they were accepted and allowed to exercise their faith. Constantine even legalized the Christian faith by AD 313.

Once that took place, Christian ideas were allowed to percolate through society. One of the most important ideas was that human beings are created in the image of God. This idea has a profound impact. First, it meant that people are fundamentally equal to each other. No longer were there grounds for saying that some people are superior to others. In fact, “Christians were the first people in history to oppose slavery systematically.”{7}

Christians (who believed that all are created in the image of God) treated the sick differently. They believed that even those who were deathly ill still deserved care. Dionysius of Alexandria reported that Christians (often at great risk to their own lives) “visited the sick fearlessly and ministered to them continually.”{8} They would rescue babies abandoned in an act of infanticide. They would oppose abortion.

In economics, we can also see the influence of Christianity. The idea that God created the universe and then rested showed that God worked. That would mean that human beings (made in the image of God) are expected to work as well. God gave Adam and Eve intellectual work (in naming the animals) and physical work (in tending the Garden). Contrast this with the Roman world where physical work was seen as something that only slaves would do. Christians saw labor as something that was intrinsically valuable.

Labor is good; drudgery is bad. Drudgery is a result of the Fall (Genesis 3). So Christians were the first to develop technology to remove drudgery from work. Other civilizations had technology, but the West uniquely applied such things as water power to make work more valuable and worthwhile by eliminating the drudgery and repetitive nature of certain tasks.

Property rights were also well-developed during this period. “The medieval world under the influence of Christianity has a much stronger emphasis on property rights than other cultures had.”{9}

These ideas come from a biblical worldview and began to be developed during the Middle Ages. This led to a complete transformation of western society and set it on a trajectory to our modern world.

Christianity and Politics

Glenn Sunshine points out that in the West, the dynamic between church and state is unique. Christianity was originally a persecuted minority religion. Even when Christianity was declared a legal religion, the church did not depend upon the state. So the question of the relationship between church and state has been an open question.

During the Middle Ages, two men helped shape political thinking. The first was Augustine, who described two realms: the City of God and the City of Man. He argued that human government is the result of sin. He believed that it is based upon selfishness. Government itself is corruption. In the absence of government, anarchy reigns. So government is a necessary evil.

The City of God is different in that it is not based upon force or coercion. It is based upon love, charity, and repentance. That doesn’t mean that the City of Man and the City of God cannot work together. But overall, Augustine had a more pessimistic view of government.

Aristotle had a different view of government. As people in the Middle Ages began to rediscover Aristotle, they began to develop a different view of government. They saw government as a necessary institution that God has placed in the world. It had positive and legitimate functions.

Aristotle believed that government had a more positive role in society. But the Christian theologians had to also deal with the problem of original sin. They wanted to find a way to prevent original sin from corrupting the government. The tension between these two views is what drives the discussion of western political theory.

Sunshine notes that “another check on civil government involved the idea of rights.”{10} We normally associate the idea of rights, especially inalienable rights, with eighteenth century political theorists. However, John Locke’s idea that we have inalienable right to life, liberty, and property is already found in the writings of medieval theologians. The basis for this is a belief that all are created in the image of God. Therefore, all of us have a number of natural rights that the state cannot remove. Natural law was the idea that God wove moral laws into the fabric of the universe.

There also was the belief that there should be limitations on the jurisdiction of civil government and church government. One example is the Magna Carta, that stated that the English church was to be free and its liberties unimpaired by the crown.

The Renaissance and Enlightenment

What about the transformation into the modern world? In the early modern period, starting with the Renaissance in the fifteenth century to the seventeenth century, there are a whole series of events that shook the worldview consensus that developed in the Middle Ages.

Previously there were certain beliefs about truth: (1) that truth was absolute, (2) that truth is knowable to the human mind, and (3) that truth is necessary for society (a society could not be based upon a lie). The best good guide for truth would be the great civilizations of the past that lasted for so long and thus must have been based upon truth.

The idea was to go to the past to find truth. During the Renaissance scholars were very successful in collecting manuscripts and finding ancient sources. Unfortunately, they found so many sources that they discovered there was not a coherent perspective. The ancient writers disagreed with each other. In a sense, the Renaissance was a victim of its own success. There was too much information. The more ancient sources they found, the less likely they would find agreement in the perspectives. Once it became obvious that this grand synthesis was not possible, the entire purpose of intellectual activity was thrown into question.

Then there were the wars of the Reformation in which various factions fought over who was the true follower of the prince of peace. The devastation of the religious wars left many people wondering if there really was religious certainty. No longer was the question “is Christianity true” but rather “which Christianity is true?” Now you had a multiplicity of options that left people confused. This also generated questions about the role of religion in society.

Then you also had the discovery of the New World and whole people groups that had never heard the gospel. Some began to ask questions like: Is it fair of God to send them all to hell because they had never heard of Christianity? Or, in light of biblical history, where did they come from? How do these people fit with the story of Noah? These discoveries called into question biblical morality and biblical history.

Also, people started using a new way of looking at knowledge. They began to use the scientific method to evaluate everything. This begins a significant shift in how we understand the world. There is a movement away from certainty toward probability. There is also a movement away from studying ancient authors toward scientific experimentation.

In the modern world, therefore, truth is not found in the past but in the present and future. With this is also questioning of biblical authority.

The Modern World and Christianity

Let me conclude by talking about our modern world and how Christians should respond. Sunshine concludes his book with chapters on “Modernity and Its Discontents” and “The Decay of Modernity.” Essentially the modern world has left humans with a loss of truth, certainty, and meaning in life. “Materialism provides a ready answer to the question of the meaning and purpose of life: there is none.”{11} From a Darwinian perspective, our only purpose is to pass our genes on to the next generation.

This rejection of spirituality and meaning has ushered in various other worldviews as alternatives. These would be such worldviews as postmodernism, neo-paganism, and the New Age Movement. Sunshine argues that in many ways we have been catapulted back to Rome.

Like Rome we value toleration as the supreme virtue. Rome believed that toleration was important because it kept the empire together. If you go beyond the lines of toleration, you are persecuted. This is similar to the mindset today. The highest value in a postmodern world is toleration. Toleration so defined means that we will embrace any and all lifestyles people may choose.

The Romans lived in an oversexed society.{12} So do we. Rome practiced abortion. So does our society. Rome was antinatal and made a deliberate attempt to prevent pregnancy. They focused on sexual enjoyment and did not want to bother with kids. In our modern world, birthrates in most of the western democracies are plummeting.

Western civilization is a product of ancient Roman civilization plus Christianity. Sunshine argues that once you removed Christianity, modern society reverted back to Roman society and a recovery of the ancient pagan worldview.

So how should Christians live in this world? Of course, we should live out a biblical worldview. Every generation is called to live faithfully to the gospel, and our generation is no exception.

This is especially important today since we are facing a society that is not willing to accept biblical ideas. In many ways, we face a challenge similar to the early church, though not as daunting. From history we can see that the early church did live faithfully and transformed the Roman world. Christians produced a totally new civilization: western culture. By living faithfully before the watching world, we will increase our credibility and earn the respect from those who are around us by living in accordance with biblical principles.

Notes

1. Glenn Sunshine, Why You Think the Way You Do: The Story of Western Worldviews from Rome to Home (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009).
2. Ibid., 13.
3. Ibid., 31
4. Ibid., 20
5. Ibid., 30
6. Ibid., 33-34
7. Ibid., 43
8. Ibid., 44
9. Ibid., 76
10. Ibid., 91
11. Ibid., 177
12. Ibid., 33

© 2010 Probe Ministries


The Apologetics of Peter – A Logical Argument for the Deity of Christ

Steve Cable explains how the apostle Peter showed himself to be a master apologist, not the bumbling, brash fisherman he used to be.

Peter – A Leader in Apologetics

How many times have you heard the Apostle Peter portrayed as the brash fisherman whose mouth was always several steps ahead of his brain? According to many sermons, Peter’s life motto may have been “Open mouth, insert foot!” Certainly Peter did not hesitate to speak his mind which sometimes landed him in trouble and sometimes resulted in commendation (Matthew 16:23; Matthew 16:17). I suspect we often focus on Peter’s foibles because we feel that if Jesus could love and use Peter then perhaps there is hope for us as well. Others have been known to say, “I guess I take after Peter” as an excuse for thoughtless words or actions which dishonor Christ.

Download the PodcastHowever, if we look at Peter’s entire life journey as recorded in Scripture, we see a life that set an incredible example of love, zeal, compassion, courage and effective apologetics. Wait a minute! Peter, a leader in apologetics? That field is only for egghead theologians, not an uneducated fisherman like Peter, right?

Yes, absolutely Peter was a leader in this area. Here are several reasons why we can be sure that Peter was a leading apologist for Christianity.

1. Peter recognized the evidence pointing to Jesus as the Christ early on. When others doubted Jesus’ teaching, Peter declared, “To whom shall we go, you (Jesus) have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). As an eyewitness of Jesus’ teaching, signs and miracles, Peter, through the Father’s revelation of His Son, went on to declare, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matthew 6:16).

2. Beginning at Pentecost, Peter took on the role as the primary spokesperson presenting a reasoned argument for the gospel before the Jewish masses, the Jewish authorities and the first Gentile converts.

3. It appears that Peter was the one Paul approached to discuss his theology and arguments for the gospel before Paul began sharing them with the entire Roman world (Galatians 1:18). In his second epistle, Peter equates the letters of Paul with the “rest of Scripture,” giving them his approval as “God breathed” (2 Peter 3:15-16; 1:20-21).

4. Peter is the one that commanded us to be prepared to give an effective, reasoned argument for our faith, introducing the term “apologetics” to our vocabulary as important for every believer as he told the believers in Asia, “always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15-16).

Peter was never shy about taking the lead. If we are to obey this command to be prepared with a reasoned defense, it behooves us to look at the example and teaching of Peter.

In this article, we will examine the apologetics of Peter to help us grow in our ability to give a reasoned defense. Peter was following the example and instruction of his Teacher, Jesus.{1} (For a detailed discussion on Jesus’ example, check out “The Apologetics of Jesus” probe.org/apologetics-of-jesus and other resources at probe.org.)

Peter’s Defense – Credible Witnesses for the Gospel

Peter commands each of us to be prepared to give an effective reasoned argument for our hope in Christ. Is it possible that this uneducated fisherman was a master at this craft? Let’s begin our examination of how Peter went about making an argument for the gospel.

I have been greatly blessed by studying Peter’s sermons and testimony in Acts and his letters to the churches in Asia. From that study, we find that Peter focused on five aspects in his comprehensive defense of the gospel:

1. Credible witnesses
2. Compelling evidence
3. Confronting objections with consistent reasoning
4. Changed lives
5. Clear conclusion

Let’s look at each of these aspects in turn to see what we can learn to make us better at giving a reasonable explanation for our faith in Christ.

First, Peter based his argument on the basis of credible witnesses. He pointed his audience to four primary witnesses:

1. The eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life
2. The audience’s own personal knowledge of Jesus
3. The testimony of Scripture
4. The Holy Spirit

Peter and the other apostles were eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension. Speaking to a crowd in the temple shortly after Pentecost, he said, “[Jesus’ resurrection is] a fact to which we are witnesses” (Acts 3:15). In Caesarea, he told the Gentile Cornelius, We are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem” (Acts 10:34-48). Much later, writing to the believers in Asia, Peter explains, “For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2 Peter 1:16-17). Multiple eyewitness accounts of an event provide credibility, so Peter points to “we,” not just “me,” in each occasion.

Peter also called upon the experience of his listeners. In his sermon at Pentecost, he points to the signs Jesus did stating, “just as you yourselves know” (Acts 2:22). In other words, your own experience supports what I am telling you about Jesus.

Peter uses the Scriptures as an important expert witness. In Acts, Peter refers to the witness of the Scriptures nine different times, explaining how the scriptural prophecies are fulfilled in Jesus. He told his listeners, “But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled” (Acts 3:18).

Addressing a Jewish audience, Peter did not have to defend the credibility or accuracy of the Scriptures as you may be compelled to do today. But when he addressed the church in Asia, he wrote, “So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place” (2 Peter 1:19). He pointed out that his eyewitness experience with Jesus gives him even greater confidence in the Scriptures.

Finally Peter highlighted the critical testimony of the Holy Spirit in explaining the miracle of Pentecost and in front of the Jewish leaders. As he told those leaders, “And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him” (Acts 5:32).

At this point, you may be thinking, “I don’t have the advantages Peter had. I am not an eyewitness, the person I am sharing was not around when Jesus was performing signs and miracles, and they also think the Bible is full of myths. I am zero for three when it comes to pointing to credible witnesses.” You may be right, but the principles still apply to us today. Even though you are not an eyewitness, you possess written testimony from eyewitnesses who would not change their testimony even under the threat of death. The Gospels and the letters of Peter and John are eyewitness accounts. And, you are an eyewitness of what faith in Jesus has meant in your own life.

I have a friend who is a retired teacher and volunteer hospital chaplain. A number of years ago, his late wife was in the hospital recovering from a severe internal infection which nearly took her life. When the attending physician came by her room to arrange for her release, she thanked him for her recovery. The physician replied, “Don’t thank me. Thank God.” She responded, “How am I supposed to thank God? I don’t even believe in God.” The physician said, “To find the answer to that question, I would like to give you a prescription. When you get home, read the first three chapters of the Gospel of John.”

When she got home, she was surprised to discover that John was located in the middle of the Bible. She told her husband, “This is strange; shouldn’t I start with Genesis?” But you see, this physician had been asked to give a defense for the hope that was in him and he began by pointing her to an eyewitness. Shortly, after reading these chapters in John, she placed her faith in Christ. Her husband told me that he personally knows of at least thirty people who are now Christians because this physician said, “Don’t thank me. Thank God,” and introduced her to the eyewitness John.

We can also point out that no one refuted Peter when he told this large crowd that they were well aware that God had performed many miraculous signs through Jesus, and the Jewish authorities did not refute it either. We can also call upon the listeners’ own experience with life. They were not around to see Jesus perform miracles, but they did have experience with the futility of sin and the struggle with hopelessness.

In our defense of the gospel, we can point out that there is universal agreement that all of these prophecies fulfilled by Jesus were written hundreds of years before Jesus life. The fact that Jesus fulfilled those prophecies lends credence to both the Scriptures and to Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah.{2}

Peter’s Defense – Compelling Evidence for the Gospel

Of course, credible witnesses are not sufficient to make a convincing argument. If the evidence they report is circumstantial or inconclusive the argument is undermined. The testimony of Honest Abe Lincoln would not be very helpful if all he had to say was, “It was dark and I couldn’t really see what happened.” Peter made his argument by honing in on the following compelling evidence for the gospel:

1. Jesus did not live an ordinary life. God attested to Jesus’ special position “with miracles and wonders and signs.”

2. Jesus suffered a highly public death by crucifixion.

3. God raised Him up again.

First, the signs Jesus performed lend credence to the possibility of the resurrection. As Peter wrote to the Christians in Asia, “For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased’ — and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain” (2 Peter 1:17-18).

I have the opportunity to share the gospel with international students who have little prior knowledge about Jesus and Christianity. As we look together at the accounts of Jesus’ miracles, I ask them, “What would your response be if you witnessed these events? What would you think about Jesus?” Usually the response is, “I would want to find out more about him. How is he able to do these things? He is not a normal person.”

The second piece of evidence is essential to the argument. If Jesus did not actually die on the cross, His resurrection is a farce. In every defense, Peter states that we know that Jesus was put to death on a cross (Acts 2:23; 3:15; 4:10; 5:30; 10:39; 1 Peter 1:3; 3:18). Jesus’ crucifixion resulted in real physical death. Jesus did not escape death; he experienced death to pay for our sins. The Jewish leaders did not try to refute Peter’s assertion that Jesus had died on that cross.

The crowning piece of evidence is that “God raised Jesus from the dead” (Acts 3:15). Peter wants his audience to know that this is an indisputable fact. Peter told Cornelius and his household, “[we] ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead” (Acts 10:41).

Jesus’ resurrection is the heart of the gospel and of any defense of the gospel. Consequently, it is the central theme of Peter’s message.{3}

Peter’s Defense – Confronting Objections with Consistent Reasoning

Some Christian speakers suggest that being “fools for Christ” (1 Corinthians 4:10) means that we do not need to address objections with logical arguments. This is odd since the person they are quoting, Paul, based his ministry and his letters on giving a rational argument for the Christian faith. Perhaps even more compelling is that the uneducated fisherman, Peter, also confronted objections using logical reasoning.  He knew that a good argument addresses both the evidence clearly supporting the conclusion and also any evidence which appears to counter the conclusion.

Let’s look at three specific objections on the minds of his listeners that Peter addressed in Acts and his letters.

The first objection he addressed is the popular notion that the Messiah would come in triumph and in power; certainly not in suffering and death. In his arguments, Peter reminds the listeners that the prophets clearly state that the one who will bring healing and restoration will suffer (Acts 2:23; 3:18; 4:11; 1 Pet. 1:10-11; 2:21-24). He told the crowd in the temple, “God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer” (Acts 3:18). He pointed the rulers and the elders to Psalm 118 when he declared, “[Jesus is] the stone which was rejected by you the builders, but which became the chief corner stone” (Acts 4:11).

The second objection is that the Scriptures do not teach the resurrection of the dead. The Jews were looking for a descendant of David who would reign forever as the Messiah. Peter used Psalms written by David to show that the God had revealed that the Messiah would die but not be abandoned to Hades or suffer decay and be raised to sit at the right hand of God (Psalm 16:8-11; 132:11; 110:1).

Later in his life, Peter took on a new objection which was not an issue in his early defense. This third objection was that Jesus had not returned to the earth as He promised. Peter knew that some scoffers were saying, “Why should we believe that Jesus is going to return? It has been years since His death and the world just keeps going along just as it always has.” Peter responds by

1. identifying the false assumption in the scoffers’ argument,
2. providing an important perspective on the question, and
3. explaining the rationale for delaying Jesus’ return.

The false assumption is that God has not dramatically intervened in the past. Peter reminds them that God destroyed human civilization through the flood and the scoffers of that time did not believe God would act against them either.

The important perspective is that God does not view time in the way humans do. “But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day” (2 Peter 3:8-9).

The rationale is God’s mercy as Peter wrote: “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

Although you may need to address one of these three specific topics at sometime, the important point is that Peter did not gloss over the objections. He did not just say, “I am an eyewitness. Jesus is the resurrected Messiah. Repent and believe.” He addressed the concerns he knew were on the minds of his audience with consistent rational arguments.

Peter’s Defense – The Testimony of Changed Lives

Peter knew that an effective argument for the gospel, for our hope, needs to include visible as well as oral arguments. Peter emphasized current evidence that his audience could experience or observe at that time.

For example, at Pentecost his sermon is in response to the crowd drawn to the spectacle of the disciples praising God in many different languages. He points out that this event is the fulfillment of the prophecy in Joel. Then the body of his message leads to the point that “[Jesus] has poured forth this which you both see and hear” (Acts 2:33).

Similarly, in the temple he points to the healing of the lame man as evidence that Jesus is the resurrected Prince of Life (Acts 3:15-16).

In his first letter to the churches in Asia, Peter explains that our purpose as God’s special people is to “proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). One way we fulfill our purpose is by always being ready to give a reasoned argument for our faith. However, Peter teaches us that it is much more than a verbal or written argument. According to the body his letter, we proclaim Jesus’ excellencies by

1. our excellent behavior,
2. our loving relationships,
3. our response to suffering,
4. our servant’s heart, and
5. our devotion to prayer.

These living arguments are essential elements supporting any effective argument explaining our living hope in Jesus. Peter put it this way: “always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame (1 Peter 3:15-16). A good conscience and good behavior are directly tied to the effectiveness of our defense. Peter also highlights the importance of presenting our argument with gentleness and a genuine concern and respect for the other person as someone created in the image of God and loved by Jesus.

Peter’s Defense  –  A Clear Conclusion

Sometimes we get so enthused about the argument that we forget the purpose. We always want to point people to the fact that they can receive a living hope through faith in the resurrection of Jesus. Peter always kept his conclusion in mind. Let’s look at how he presented the conclusion.

To the crowd at Pentecost, he said, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ — this Jesus whom you crucified. . . Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:36-39).

To the crowd in the temple, he said, “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away” (Acts 3:19).

To the Jewish leaders, he proclaimed, “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

To Cornelius and his household, he concluded, “through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins” (Acts 10:43).

To the church in Asia, he reminded, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).

Peter wanted them to understand the importance of Jesus life, death, and resurrection to their eternal future. His clear conclusions invited a response from each individual.

Our examination of the preaching and teaching of Peter has shown him to be a master apologist for the gospel. If we want to follow in his footsteps, we study his example preparing ourselves to give an effective argument consisting of

1. credible witnesses
2. compelling evidence
3. confronting objections with consistent reasoning
4. changed lives, and a
5. clear conclusion.

Then when people say that you are acting like Peter, it should be a testimony to your effective witness for our Lord Jesus Christ.

Notes

1. For a detailed discussion on Jesus’ example, check out Pat Zukeran’s “The Apologetics of Jesus,” probe.org/apologetics-of-jesus) and other resources at probe.org.
2. For more resources explaining our confidence in the Bible as a reliable witness, check out Pat Zukeran’s “Authority of the Bible” (probe.org/authority-of-the-bible) and other resources by going to probe.org/radio.
3. To find out more information on the compelling evidence for the Resurrection and its importance in making a reasoned argument for the gospel, see Steve Cable’s, “The Answer is the Resurrection” (probe.org/answer-is-the-resurrection) and other resources available at probe.org/radio.

© 2010 Probe Ministries International


COVID Conditioning: A Viral Outbreak is (Re)Shaping Us and Our World

Byron Barlowe probes the underlying implications of the global reaction to COVID-19 from a worldview level, asking if we may be being conditioned to accept unbiblical views without realizing it.

You and I are being conditioned, you know that, right? It’s a daily thing. Events and messages work on us, and we need to learn to shape them before they shape us. We must take in the right stuff to counter lies and well-intended overreach.

All of a sudden a universal and ubiquitous mind-and-heart-shaper has hit the world like an alien invasion. The tension and suspense feels like that in the film Signs: sitting in the basement, waiting for green “men” to creep into the boarded-up farmhouse, getting snatches of what’s going on in the outside world through a baby monitor. We are covered over with everything COVID-19 virus: news of it, perhaps even the real effects of it as a sickness. But for most of us the newly-minted mandates by mayors and governors, and social pressures from friends and family stemming from the worldwide reaction is the main reality of our lives as we “shelter in place” and are bombarded with a constant stream of information. It’s ruining investment portfolios—at least for now “on paper”—and skyrocketing the recently record-low unemployment numbers. People are scared for themselves and loved ones since so much is unknown.

How is all this change changing us? Materially, how will shifting norms transform public policy and law, along with our personal beliefs? What will the upending of our economy, civic, and personal lives mean? For folks with secure jobs and schoolchildren, is it simply about getting through a few weeks of downtime and home-work, commonsense hygiene and personal contact avoidance? Or will we be forever stamped with new attitudes and convictions birthed by events beyond our control?

We are Responsible for Our Thoughts and Beliefs

Brain scientists confirm what good pastors, parents, and coaches teach: we can’t necessarily control what we go through, but our reaction to it is up to us. Don’t get “Corona’d”! We can either fall mindlessly into lockstep with what we’re told, or to run this experience through a wise grid and conquer fear and foolishness. Cognitive researcher and Christian Dr. Caroline Leaf emphasizes the power of mental self-control: “As we think, we change the physical nature of our brain. As we consciously direct our thinking, we can wire out toxic patterns of thinking and replace them with healthy thoughts . . . . It all starts in the realm of the mind, with our ability to think and choose—the most powerful thing in the universe after God, and indeed, fashioned after God.{1}

The Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of our Creator God, acknowledged this reality when writing to the first Century Roman church and, by extension, to us today. If he were writing what became Romans 12:1-2 to contemporary folks he may have emphasized an action point first (verse 2) and expanded his words’ scope to entail what early believers took for granted: God as the center of all things. Their worldview, including their view of the universe (cosmology), was hierarchical and infused with “God-ness.” Our temptation to trust in God-optional techno-science and complex government structures would be alien to our ancient Christian brethren. Yet, there were competing views of the way the seen and unseen worlds work, so Paul’s admonition to develop their new Christ-inhabited mind is just as germane today.

It might have read something like, “Do not be conditioned by the world [all that is other-than-God, the cosmos, and anti-biblical realms, including your own self-created view of the world] but be reconditioned by the total upgrading of your mind in a new operating system downloaded by the entrance of the Holy Spirit when you believed. This will help you discern how to use that new mind wholeheartedly, purely serving through your body, which is only fitting and quite pleasing as your service to the Master of created reality, Himself the ‘I Am’ Reality.”

It’s Real for Me Too

I’m not immune from the scare and worry. My smartphone just dinged: my son’s second interview for his first career job set for 90 minutes from now was just cancelled. The recently thriving corporation—a very promising prospect—has frozen all hiring due to COVID-19. On the other line is a daughter who is seeking a low-income service position since her employer has no jobs in the pipeline. Our other daughter, an Intensive Care Unit nurse, feels the pressure of shortages and health risks. She posted a picture of herself in a mask and gown, disease prevention protocols called “Droplet Precautions.” Their medical equipment is inadequate and has to be washed and reused. A friend’s fiancé’s family have all been laid off: dad, mom, and siblings. It’s up to me to regulate my Corona-news intake, take my anxiety to God, and trust him. But I am determined not to be led into fear and one-sided thinking and to help others.

Mind-Conditioning: Words Matter to Our Worldview

Harsh new realities are marked by new verbiage which is always a sign of cultural change and often a signal of improper controlling (“shelter in place,” “social distancing,” “presumptive positive,” “an abundance of caution”). Euphemisms like these mask meanings. In order of appearance, they clearly mean “Stay home, keep apart, we presume that he/she is a carrier, and we are going into high-control mode.” As philosopher Peter Kreeft writes, “Control language and you control thought; control thought and you control action; control action and you control the world.” Are you and I being conditioned to become used to changes we may not want?{2}

In the chaos, those of us with downtime and a biblical view of life need to use it to reflect and speak into a frightened and confused world. In the larger pluralistic community, how we respond collectively and personally will in no small way determine the arc of our future. As Dr. J.P. Moreland says, “Each situation in our lives is an occasion for either positive formation or negative deformation.”{3} Yet, this is not simply a personal matter. We are citizens and need to be active ones.

Basic assumptions about reality—worldview presuppositions we just take for granted—tend to sit like bedrock or sinkholes underneath the foundations of cultures, families, and individual lives. We either don’t know about them or ignore them, especially in hectic times of real or perceived crisis. They’re deep, unseen, and usually of no concern until events unearth them or an earthquake shakes things up. Sinkholes cause collapse. Bedrock stands.

Specific Concerns About Corona-Conditioning

Here are some concerns I have as a teacher of biblical worldview discernment as this worldwide quake rattles on:

Have we become too beholden to medical science for direction? Every human life is infinitely precious—a very biblical stance given that we are made in God’s image, that He died for all people, and that He desires for none to perish (Genesis 1:27; John 3:16; 2 Peter 3:9). Yet, how does a society weigh its view of life-value versus the inevitability of sickness and death? Citizens demand a disease-free life without pain and engage in death-avoidance, then take “death with dignity”; the medical establishment pretends it can deliver all that. Can outbreaks like this be allowed to shut down entire economies and render personal freedoms moot? Only if we play along with such pretense. An international obsession with killing it ignores everything else. Will our COVID-19 response cause more harm than good? How one answers such concerns, not whether such dilemmas should happen, is at issue. Our personal worldviews and collective societal constructs—which we can help change—will determine controllable outcomes. We will not determine uncontrollable.

This is not to say that public health decrees are wrong in principle nor to necessarily question at least some of those being decreed in this situation, for example voluntary at-home work and study. Repeating louder this time: I am not saying a massive and unusual response is bad or wrong in and of itself. Nevertheless, history is absolute regarding the exercise of such power—it almost never regresses. 9-11 and subsequent one-off attempted terrorist acts put in place onerous rules for air passengers that look permanent. Progress, in this sense, may be regress if it unrealistic and ill-conceived.

Conditioning Reality Itself?

Is Modern mankind seeking to short-circuit reality and its consequences? This is the biggest underlying issue. There’s something new in the air: near-unanimous mass morality based in rapidly fueled public opinion further fed by transnational fear. I call it “CoronaVirus Virus.” So far, epidemiologists and medical scientists are calling the shots for a global society. Pundits pump up the hype before we can know. Public peer pressure (along with corporate acquiescence and
promotion) guarantee an unquestioning going-along for most people and institutions.

We constantly hear and read the phrase, “It’s just the right thing to do.” This orientation raises the question, “Why is it the right thing to do? What is the moral grounding for that decision?” “The greater good” is the mantra of a utilitarian worldview that eventually erases the kind of individual freedom of moral agents which Scripture honors. The people in power decide what is good for all the rest. In a pluralistic society like ours, the privileging of choice was traditionally baked into the very fabric of public policy. Law allows leeway for disputable matters of conscience—at least they did before the advent of “hate crimes” which require God-like knowledge of motives. Such fundamental precepts of liberty have long been eroding. In this new Corona-driven milieu, dictates like government ordered shuttering of businesses and stay-at-home decrees means they may never be fully regained. Let’s at least realize this, even if the calculus of health-risk mitigation over civil liberty wins the day.

Then there’s the prospect of the next pandemic. Some virus is surely incubating for debut next year. Will this draconian level be the new standard of response? How will our economy or that of the world (who often follow our lead) survive under such control?

“What, again, is government’s role?”

Who is pausing even for a moment to ask about various requirements, “Is this a bridge too far?” That leads to the other great concern: the directives from medical science’s mass diagnosis-for-the-world are, of course, implemented by government. But the biblical view of the role of government is pretty much limited to policing and making war. Admittedly, society and hence, government has multiplied in complexity—an unbiblical situation given the limits mentioned—therefore public health and economic interventions are somewhat necessary. Absolutely, there are critical emergency situations and this is one of them. It would be unconscionable to allow an epidemic to spread willy-nilly on its own.

However, again, is anyone hitting Pause to ask how far is too far? One hopes that in retrospect, this crisis engenders a throttling back and overturning of policies that helped us get in this pickle (e.g., Federal Reserve-mandated interventions and supposed fixes which are being implemented again; also, allowing a Communist foreign nation a choke hold on pharmaceutical and medical supply chains to gain the “common good” of cheap goods while caregivers do without). Government solutions for all of life. Did we vote this in? Will we do it again in November?

Government Tyranny in Sight?

Most worrisome is a move toward what appears more like a police state. In Jordan, missionaries report that 400 people have been arrested for leaving their apartments. Refugee relief workers cobble together care in an impossible situation. A Kentucky man was kept in his home somehow after he refused to self-isolate (another new term in the popular vernacular)—I don’t know the details. That spooked me. I wish he cared enough to stay away from people, but when it comes down to it, he could be shot in his own neighborhood—presumably on his own property—for leaving. Explain that to your six-year-old. A shelter in place order for all counties surrounding Kansas City is to be enforced by police. Cops deciding to fine or arrest you for leaving your home for other than trips to the doctor, grocery story, or cleaners? Politicians telling us what’s essential may be necessary but seems arbitrary at best. Talk of state borders closing for a sickness? This is a novel consideration, far as I know! Does the Coronavirus rise to the level of a nuclear fallout situation? Is this our shared future? As author and apologist Dr. Ken Boa asks (in a personal email), “Given the nature of interconnectivity in a digital world, we now live within plausible sight of a fear-induced technological plague that could lead to a totalitarian outcome.”

Choices, Not Conditioned Responses

Again, all I am asking is, “Does the necessity of this drastic a world-changing meta-response go without saying? Could a relatively restrained response now be wise—despite the public relations suicide of facing a sometimes mad mob morality?” On the other hand, “Is freedom—economic and cultural—worth more lives? Whose feet would that be laid at? Politicians? The medical establishment (they are simply doing their calling)? Fate’s? God’s?”

If the choice is between saving every possible life and forever changing life itself for earth’s entire population, where is the middle ground and how does a society find it? That boat has sailed, I fear. Relativistic, ever-changing ideals and their progressive promotion have won the day. The mindset of “We are going to win this thing, no matter the cost!” reigns triumphant in headlines.

There’s a worldview at work—learn to notice it: note the irony of a Postmodern relativism entwined with a Modernist certainty regarding mankind’s ability to control what used to be called an “act of God.” That’s what the highly moralistic and humanistic John Mauldin is unabashedly promoting, I believe. One more mass-mediated call to controlling an out of control universe. As if we could.

Be At Peace, Christian, And Spread That Peace

For individual believers, a biblically realistic and optimistic response is to shelter in place (“abide in Me”). Rest in the peace and assurance of a loving, sovereignly overseeing Creator who will make all things right someday, whose agenda is being met. The best outward response toward unbelievers is to share not only the certainty of that hope, but the gospel that leads to hope in a disease-free, worry-free, perfectly functional and loving society of brother and sisters in Christ. Eternal perspective is the conditioning we must seek. Because we’re all being conditioned. It is truly a daily thing.

Meanwhile, pray for the individuals in charge and their decision-making to be sound. As a new normal reconditions minds and hearts around the globe at the speed of Internet connections, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed” by the mind of Christ (Romans 12:2).

Notes

1. Dr. Caroline Leaf, Switch on Your Brain: The Key to Peak Happiness, Thinking, and Health, p. 20, emphasis mine.
2. www.azquotes.com/quote/1333869, accessed 3/23/2020.
3. J.P. Moreland, Finding Quiet: My Story of Overcoming Anxiety and the Practices That Brought Peace (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2019).