Apologetics 101: 4 Commonly Asked Questions

This is not meant to be an exhaustive study of apologetics or even these questions that I raised, it is more of an introductory level start at it meant for the layperson to get you started in studying apologetics for yourself… so much of what I go through here is going to be simplified and not as in depth as it could be dealt with. But I do hope it will at least give people a good starting point on which to continue further study.

What is apologetics?

Definition:
The word comes from the Greek word “apologia” which means “a verbal defence” – so the study of apologetics is to give a defence for the faith.

The call to Apologetics…

Before we start into answering the questions I think it is important to address how we go about giving this defense. Because the Bible does have guidelines for us…

In 1 Peter, he’s writing a general letter to the church and he commends all the believers:

“But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behaviour in Christ may be put to shame.”
(1 Peter 3:14-16 ESV)

So every single Christian should honour Jesus as holy – as Lord of all our life, and also be ready to respond why. Apologetics on some level is a requirement for ALL Christians if we are really serious about spreading the Gospel. Because how you became a Christian and why are you a Christian are two different questions. Sometimes people mix up their testimony – which is how you became a Christian with why. In fact, sometimes people will get radically saved first, and they know something major has happened to me – then spend the rest of their life trying to figure out what happened! That’s because salvation is a supernatural act of God to regenerate a person dead in sin, blind to the light and deaf to the truth. In apologetics, we must be careful to answer the questions people are asking, because you can tell them how – your experience, etc and it will do them no good if they are struggling with having reasonable evidence as to why to believe. Peter is interested in Christians being able to answer the question why and communicate it in an effective and respectful way.

I think it’s interesting that this command is also given to us in a book of the Bible which speaks so much of suffering for the sake of the Gospel. Sometimes engaging with people will cost us, sometimes you will butt heads inevitably as you do have to confront people on their beliefs and make arguments. Some will even revile you and persecute you, we should not be surprised or afraid of this. The New Testament is filled with passages that tell us that this is normative to the Christian experience, and even to be expected. Paul says it explicitly to Timothy:

“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12 ESV)

We need to be bold in our witness, however – it is important to note though, that our suffering or persecution is as a result of pursuing godliness and engaging with people in gentleness and respect, having a good conscience… not because you’re being a jerk to them. We must understand that behind every question, is a questioner – and a lot of the questions that you will be asked, are not just asked as mere intellectual pursuits, but have deep emotional connections to the person asking it also. A person who asks about evil in the world, was most likely scarred by some evil, and this is their soul’s cry from hurt and wanting justice or meaning for their pain. You can win the argument but lose the person.

Acts 26 – Paul and Agrippa: Truth demands a response.

So Paul is brought before King Agrippa and has to present his “apologia” – I’m not going to go through the whole account, but I suggest you read it for yourself later because it’s a very interesting exchange. After Paul gives his defense for his faith, Agrippa asks him this question:

“In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” (Acts 26:28b ESV)

Notice the point, Paul was trying to convert Agrippa… It is important that we keep that the focus, we don’t just argue with people for mere intellectual debate. It is easy to “academize” apologetics and evangelism, instead of doing it out of our genuine love and concern for people. Our goal is to convert them, to have their eyes opened up to the glorious Gospel of our Lord and have them come into a loving and saving relationship with Jesus! Sometimes we can get caught up in mere intellectual and philosophical speculations, but it is important that we bring it back to demanding a response in the hearer. We’re not after mere intellectual ascent to an idea, but recognition of our broken condition, willing submission to the Lordship of Christ, and genuine repentance and turning away from sin. We must confront people with the fact that the information we present to them demands a response… how will you live in light of the truth I just exposed to you? How does it apply? All of this must be done out of a heart that cares for, is broken for and loves the person. If you want to be a better apologist, be a better lover of people. It is out of love that we are inspired to study more to answer their questions out of genuine concern for their souls.

I love how bold Paul is in his response to Agrippa’s question:

And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.” (Acts 26:29 ESV)

Paul is unapologetically after this guy’s soul. This should be our passionate pursuit. All apologetics is to and from the Cross of Christ… it is the reason we have hope (1 Peter 3:15) is Jesus! We’re not out to just win arguments, we’re out to see the Lord save people who are created in His image who are in willful rebellion to Him, blind to the truth and are on their way to a Christless eternity of conscious torment. There  is a certain urgency in our apologetics and evangelism which must be communicated. Do you have this burden?

Why do we need apologetics?

“For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ”
(2 Corinthians 10:4-5)

The battle for souls takes place a large part of the time in the mind. We wage war against ideas, arguments, worldviews, theories and philosophies which rise up against the knowledge of God. Our war is not against people, we’re waging war against the chains of wrong thinking and ideas which hold them back from seeing the truth. We don’t reason people to faith, salvation has to be a supernatural working of the Holy Spirit in someone’s life to open up their eyes – I’ve never argued someone into salvation – however, it is one of the tools which the Lord can use to break down those barriers to belief.

It’s also important for us as Christians too! James talks about the double-minded person:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:5-8 ESV)

James was like a Trini. That word “double-minded” is actually a Greek word he invented by smashing two words together…

The word is: δίψυχος – “dipsychos”… it comes from “dis” meaning two, and “psyxe” meaning soul. It doesn’t mean to be two faced. It means actually that you are caught between two opinions and you don’t know what to think and what to believe. Such a person James says, is spiritually unstable in all they do and their prayer life is ineffective – not because they are not living correctly, but because they are not thinking correctly. Right living stems from right thinking. They still haven’t decided in their own mind where they stand. We have so many Christians who struggle with doubts, but instead of working and studying to seek answers for them, we renounce our God-given ability to think. We need to have strong convictions with understanding why we hold that position. The best time to get answers is before you need them – and I can tell you first hand how important this is especially for those of you who have kids who will one day go off to college and University and have professors and colleagues who will mercilessly drill them, test and ridicule their faith.

All throughout the Bible is the language commanding us to think, study, meditate, test and approve the truth… we love God with ALL our heart, soul, strength and MIND – we are not supposed to be intellectually lazy. Studying apologetics deepens our own faith so much more as we find out that there are substantial evidences to back up what we believe. When I read the gospels, I realize that Jesus’ call is a call to bet it all on him, to come and die… if I’m going to have that kind of radical commitment to something – I better be very sure it’s true otherwise that would be foolish! So I’d encourage you to do your own study – don’t just depend on my talk, or pastor, because these things – a lot of the details you will forget! And truth that you find for yourself is so much more impacting and stays with you. So let’s not be intellectually lazy Christians – this is one of the worst critiques of the church I hear from atheists.

Some tips on apologetics:

Careful with using “Christianese” with people who did not grow up in the Church. Church culture has its own internal language that for us who have grown up in it – we inherently understand and speak it. But to people not familiar with it, you might as well be speaking Greek. Words such as sanctification, propitiation, justification, born again, regeneration, even how we speak of “the flesh” and the blood of Christ – can be really strange sounding to an outsider. Saying things like, “I covet your prayers”, “divine appointments”, “fishers of men”, “Jehovah Sneaky”, “knee mail”, “missionary dating”, “the lost”, “vacationary” and of course our favourite “WWJD” – all these are foreign inner speak to outsiders that can make them feel lost in the conversation or totally misunderstand what you’re saying. Avoid using them, or if you must – explain it.

As we’re on the topic, also some words are starting to be redefined in culture… so what we mean by hope, faith, love, etc… may not be what people understand and we end up speaking past each other. The common slang of the world is often different to that of the Church – especially if you’ve lived a sheltered Christian life. “Bad” and “sick” now mean “good” and “cool”. The meaning of love is totally skewed and redefined too. So sometimes we can inadvertently be talking past someone unknowingly, thinking they understand the same thing we do by these words. Trinidad is increasingly becoming more and more secularized as our country gets a majority of its media from North America. Unavoidably things such as naturalism, Darwinism, Hedonism, and all these other “isms” are going to creep in and already have started. So apologetics is very important for the Church to be able to engage effectively with the changing culture.

Lastly, there are effective and ineffective ways to do apologetics. Jamming facts down people’s throats usually provokes a gag reflex. I tend to take a cue from how I see Jesus engage with questioners – He often responded to them with questions of His own to get to the heart of the matter. If we learn how to be good question askers, we can become better apologists. I’ve found it’s a lot less about knowing all the facts and data – although those are important also – but a large part of it is asking questions that will challenge what people have just accepted without really critically analyzing. Get them to think. I’ve found it’s way more effective if I can guide someone via the right questions to admit the truth out of their own mouth or see the folly of their arguments for themselves. It’s a lot less intrusive, and you don’t have as much of the “gag reflex” response. This is not to say that people won’t get upset or offended though, because at the end of the day – the Gospel is an offense to the carnal man as he comes to terms with his own sinful nature and helpless estate. But hopefully what we pray for is what Paul talked about in 2 Corinthians 7:10, that Godly sorrow for sin, leads to repentance and life.

What I will be presenting here because of time will only be introductory responses to the questions – as we could get into an hour long conversation on each one. It is impossible for me to present them as in depth as they each require here… But I want you to take away for now the gist of the argument and the reasoning behind it. I’m not going to give you all the numbers, stats and facts I could to support these arguments as I’ve seen that we cannot retain all of them. What I want you to grasp are the concepts, and you can research and memorize the numbers and facts at your own discretion later. At the end I will leave you with resources which you can use to get started on studying more in depth for yourself. So let’s get started…

 

QUESTION 1: “Faith vs Science – Hasn’t science disproven God?”

A lot of people tend to ask this question or throw it out there unsubstantiated as a sort of hear-say that they take for truth. It’s interesting that they would do this and expect to get away with it – but if someone else tries to do that to them they are quick to pick up on it. We need to substantiate our truth claims. But for the majority of people they will not actually know the facts why they think this is true. Some who have studied a bit more will engage on a deeper level, but most will try to point to Big Bang theory and other common scientific knowledge. For me – I commonly respond, I believe in the Big Bang – I just happen to know the Banger. It was right at Genesis 1 when God said, “let there be light” and boom – there was light! However, joking aside, a lot of what science has come to know actually supports the Biblical model of creation. For many years, scientists thought that the Universe was eternal – without a beginning – and infinite, without limits. However, now – every sensible scientist has accepted that the Universe did have a beginning and does have limits.

A common argument for this and one of the easiest to learn is called the Kalam Cosmological Argument. It goes simply like this:

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
2. The Universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

Pretty simple right? Anyone could memorize these 3 points!
Let’s break down these premises now.

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause:

Out of nothing, nothing comes.

Aristotle put it this way, “Nothing is what rocks dream about.” Things don’t just pop into existence. It is highly irrational and illogical to think this way. “Nothing” has no potential to create, no energy to do anything, it is a lack of anything. If the Universe had a beginning, it follows that before that beginning was nothing – since the universe includes space, time and all matter. If something can come into being from nothing, why don’t we see this happening all the time?

This is pretty basic. And for most people, you won’t get much objection to this. However, if you’re dealing with some higher level intellectuals or physicists – they may bring up the question of quantum particles, or even photons being emitted seemingly from out of nowhere. A photon is produced whenever an electron in a higher-than-normal orbit falls back to its normal orbit. During the fall from high energy to normal energy, the electron emits a photon — a packet of energy — with very specific characteristics. However, even in these examples, there is still a causal relationship. There needed to be an electron, an atom which was energized, and a change in state from high to low energy. Not only that – there  is a HUGE difference to minute tiny atomic and quantum particles being produced “supposedly” from nothing, and a whole UNIVERSE popping into existence! There are NO examples of something coming from absolutely nothing without some sort of causal relationship. This is just a simplified example – but if you run into these objections – I’d encourage you to do your research and assure you there are answers… 🙂

2. The Universe began to exist:

                Bertrand Russel had said, “the Universe is just there, and that’s all.” However, modern understandings of Big Bang Cosmology, Einstein’s theory of relativity and cosmology has shown that the Universe indeed did have a beginning at some fixed point in the past. If we take the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics which says basically that a closed system tends to a state of equilibrium – otherwise known as heat dissipation. So, everything is slowly running down, moving towards a state of stillness – or running out of usable energy. Eventually, stars will run out of gas and burn out, the expansion of the Universe will slow down and halt, etc… this is commonly referred to as the heat death of the Universe. Much like a boiling pot on a stove, when turned off, after a while will become cold… So, if the Universe had been here forever, it would have already run out of energy by now! Because there’s only so much energy to use! The “pot” should be cold by now!

Alexander Friedmann and Georges Lemaitre using Einstein’s equations predicted that the Universe is expanding. Then, in 1929, Edwin Hubble confirmed that the Universe was in fact expanding by measuring the red shift in distant galaxies. So if in fact the Universe is expanding, if we trace back far enough it would lead us back to a single point in time and space where the Universe sprang into being. This is commonly referred to as the singularity – the point of infinite density of space and time from which everything came.

There were of course some reactions to this discovery which prompted alternate theories of origins such as the Steady State Universe, the Oscillating Model, the Multiverse, Vacuum Fluctuation, Eternal Inflationary Model and Quantum Gravity. However, all of these models have been seriously criticized and rejected by many in the scientific community as unable to provide adequate explanation and as such – the Big Bang theory still remains as the primary model for the beginning of the Universe. I don’t have time to go into each one – but you can research them yourselves if interested. But, in 2003, Arvind Borde, Alan Guth, and Alexander Vilenkin – some of the top cosmologists in the world proved that any universe which has been expanding cannot be eternal but must have an absolute beginning.

3. Therefore, the Universe has a cause:

So it is unavoidable that the Universe has to have a cause. The Universe cannot cause itself. Also, equations and forces such as gravity cannot cause the Universe as some skeptics suggest. Equations have no creation power – they only simply describe what already exists. Also gravity is a force which requires matter to exist – so therefore how can it be the cause of the thing which it requires for its own existence? These are feeble objections to a logical conclusion which skeptics don’t want to face.

It logically follows then, that if the Universe had a cause – this cause needs to be greater than the thing it created. Since space, time, energy and matter were all created – this cause needs to be beyond space, eternal or outside of time, incredibly powerful and immaterial. Also, according to Newton’s first Law of Motion – that an object at rest remains at rest – then what got everything rolling in the beginning when there was a state of nothingness and no potential? Inanimate objects cannot move themselves or change states. Only something with a mind can choose to make a change. Therefore this cause also has to be Personal.

So we have quite simply established that this cause has to be, beyond space, eternal, incredibly powerful, immaterial and personal… also because of the complexity and design we see in creation – this Cause has to be also very wise. Hmmmmm…. Sounds a lot like a description of God huh?

One common rebuttal you’re bound to get is; well then if everything has a cause – who created God? This is a simple misunderstanding of the premise and also of God. Premise 1 says that whatever begins to exist has a cause. God, by Christian definition, is eternal and therefore without beginning. So therefore, God doesn’t necessitate a cause. He is the only being whose cause is Himself. He is the uncaused Cause, the unmoved Mover. To say that God has a cause, is to misunderstand the definition of God, but also furthermore would place you in an infinite regress – as you’d have to then ask, ok – so what caused God’s cause, then what caused that cause, and so on…

So why do I start here with the Kalam argument? Well, because a lot of the objections you will get from scientifically minded people will be on the grounds that miracles aren’t possible. However, I believe the biggest miracle in the Bible is found in Genesis 1! God created everything from nothing – ex-nihilo, and we have convincing scientific argument and evidence for it. If you can establish that miracle as plausible – every other miracle, by comparison to the creation of the entire Universe at the word of God, is thereby plausible. If there is an omnipotent Creator God, there is nothing illogical about the possibility of miracles.

Other arguments from science:

There is a lot more that can be said from science with respect to God as the cause of the Universe which I don’t have time to get into details here so I’ll just briefly mention.

There is the argument from Design. The Universe and creation has been so intricately designed that there must have been a mind behind it. We don’t look at things with design and ever think they are the product of random chance. It would be like finding a watch and thinking, “Oh – look at how this watch has randomly assembled itself from all the right parts and pieces” or “if there was an explosion in a printing press, it would eventually randomly produce a marvelous piece of literature.” Design, creativity, beauty, messages – all these things point to a mind behind them. Some good arguments are the design of the human body and its organs – such as the eye, which is so complex and specific in its design and workings it could not have randomly emerged from chance and the right parts. And even then, you need the right parts – where are they coming from? This argument follows naturally into the idea of Intelligent Design which you can look into more.

Another thing to consider is the observable Irreducible Complexity. There are certain things in nature which cannot arise via slow, gradual accumulation of their working parts. They all need to be there present and working to function properly and beneficially in the organism. A good example is the bacterial flagellum – which is basically a motor in a bacteria which it uses for propulsion. It has all the parts of a car motor, crank shaft, gears, engine, etc… and all of them have to be there for the thing to work and be useful. Since evolution only keeps the changes which benefit the organism – it cannot arise gradually. So why would it gradually accumulate an engine and keep it if there is no crank shaft, etc? They all need to be there at once to be useful.

This also leads us to the remarkable interdependency of the ecosystem. How so many species are dependant on each other for their survival – they could not have arose independent of each other. One great example is termites. Termites actually cannot digest wood. There is a bacteria in their stomach which actually breaks down the wood so that they can digest it. This sort of co-dependency cannot be explained by traditional Darwinian theories of evolution.

We even see irreducible complexity within the galaxies – known as the fine tuning argument – and how many things are necessary for the conditions on earth to support life. We have to be exactly the right distance from our Sun, in the right orbit. There needs to be the bigger outer planets to draw in asteroids and shield us. There needs to be a magnetic field of the earth to protect us from solar radiation. Our atmosphere has to be just right. The tilt of the earth’s rotation has to be just right. We need a moon of just the right size and orbit. There needs to be adequate plate tectonics for the recycling of CO2, and other minerals, etc. Even the storms and earthquakes we experience help in the cycle of nature that is required to sustain life and keep our planet habitable. The very natural constants, such as the attractive force between atomic particles, plank’s constant, gravitational force, and others need to be so precise that if they varied by even the tiniest amount – the Universe we see today would not be possible. The more scientists study, the more they see just how “well placed” our planet and even our galaxy is to allow for life.

A common objection you run into is that people will say, “what about evolution? Doesn’t it disprove God? We don’t need God because of evolution.” However, regardless of where you stand on the evolution debate – this is stretching the explanatory power of evolutionary theory beyond its limits. Evolution is only a theory describing how the more complex life forms we see today arose via gradual changes. However, evolution by itself has no creation power. What needs to be present before evolution can happen? LIFE! Evolution does not happen from inorganic non-living things. The mechanism requires life already existing for the rules of survival of the fittest and preservation of beneficial genetic information to work. Scientists have tried and failed to show how life can come from non-living matter.

Also, there are many well educated Christians on either side of the debate(this would require me to get more into the interpretation of the Genesis 1 & 2 text which I do not have time for now, but I have written articles on it and researched it). There are many Christian scientists who hold to some form of evolutionary belief which does not conflict with their view of scriptures, such as Dr. Francis Collins, a former atheist turned Christian through his study of science and the head of the Human Genome Project which successfully mapped the human DNA. (His book, The Language of God – is a great read for those interested.) The point still remains though, even if evolution as a mechanism by which complex life arose is true, there still needs to be a source of life, and a source of all the material and energy that we see now – which brings us back to the Kalam argument. Personally I’m not convinced about the plausibility of Darwinian macro evolution in light of evidence… but I’ll leave that to you to research yourself. The point is: evolution in no way disproves or takes away the necessity for God.

 

QUESTION 2: ” The Problem of Pain”

How Can a good God allow evil and suffering? Why do bad things happen to good people?

There are two parts to answer this question – one is the intellectual argument – and the other is the emotional answer… both are important. This question and ones like it in particular are important to remember that there is a questioner behind the question who has more than likely been hurt by evil. They are not just seeking an intellectual response, but it is also the broken cry of injustice from their heart. This is why I said there are 2 parts to answering this. I’ll address the first, the intellectual argument…

Objective morality:

The person who asks the question of how can God allow evil and suffering often doesn’t realize that without God there is no way to establish objective morals by which to judge something as truly evil. If good and evil or morals exist, then that means there must be some sort of standard by which we determine objectively what is good and evil – a moral law. If there’s a moral law, there must be a moral law giver. However, the atheist trying to use this argument does not believe in a moral law giver, therefore there is no objective morality, and no such thing as real good or evil… everything is just chance, survival of the fittest and nature working itself out… so what then are they asking? In order to even ask the question you have to borrow from the theistic worldview.

Furthermore, moral values are intrinsic to persons not things. We see that all moral violations are against persons. Lying is wrong because we violate a person’s trust, murder is wrong because you violate a person’s life, stealing is wrong because we violate a person’s belongings, etc…  So the moral values must come from a personally embodied good – known as God. If morals are subjective values – then they are morally indifferent – which means that you cannot distinguish between actions which are evil or good objectively. Like caring for and loving a child as opposed to abusing and mistreating that child – without an objective standard by which to judge and differentiate those actions – they become morally indifferent since it would be based on a subjective non-authoritative opinion. Without an objective morality – then it becomes in effect – amoral… such as in the animal kingdom – some animals eat their offspring, some nurture them… nature is written in tooth and claw – survival of the fittest… there is no morality in that sense within the Darwinian model since we would be no different to the animals – just more highly evolved apes. But every person’s own conscience denies them this luxury because it testifies to a law written on our hearts… who then wrote that law on our hearts? How do these personal moral laws spring up from random molecules in motion? (This leads into a question which I won’t get into here also – of how do we explain personhood or consciousness arising from random inorganic molecules?)

Some argue that morality exists on the basis of social obligations or self-preservation. However, altruism would be a difficulty for this. The sacrifice of someone’s life for someone else not of their tribe or offspring cannot be considered virtuous on Darwinian grounds…  in fact it would be just the opposite as some naturalists have been forced to concede. That person would actually be considered defective, because they did not do their best for their own survival or the propagation of their genetic information. Atheism as a morally indifferent position could not praise acts of true altruism as virtuous or praiseworthy, but also, it could not condemn acts of gross atrocity such as raping and murder as morally despicable. All they would be able to say is this person was anti-social in not upholding the social norms and guidelines or that this person was acting only in self interest and not the interest of the species as a whole. But there could not be moral ‘outrage’ in that sense of he was violating a moral “ought” since morality would be a subjective case of personal opinion and social conditioning.

We accept that there is an objective reality of the world on the basis of our sensory experience of it…  and likewise – our moral experience testifies to the reality of an objective moral reality. Even the fact that there are hard to discern situations of moral “grey areas” – shows that there is a struggle within us with the presumption that there is an objective moral to be found, however it’s just that our ability to recognize and discern it at this moment is lacking… not that it does not exist – otherwise we would not struggle with “grey areas” since there are no objective morals or good and evil.

So why doesn’t God stop evil if he is all powerful and good… well do you want him to stop some or all evil? We sometimes talk as if evil is something “out there”, without realizing the evil within our own hearts. What about lying? What about when you stole someone else’s time by wasting it? What about hate? Lust? Do you want God to wipe those evils also, because if He did, none of us would survive! This point here is a wonderful lead into the Gospel… as it was for this very reason that God had to send His Son to pay the price of sin for a humanity which would be wiped out had it fallen on them.

Also – you’re assuming that God doesn’t have a morally justified reason for allowing bad things to happen. Would a world without any suffering even be possible? Or would another world bring about the most people to salvation and God’s glory? Are we considering ourselves as omniscient then? Do we every possible scenario and place so much faith in our own cognitive abilities to know that there cannot be any purpose in suffering just because we cannot see it? This is blind faith of the highest order!

Only in a theistic framework is there the possibility for purpose in suffering – as God has promised in His Word, that all things work together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. However, in an atheistic framework, we’re all the product of chance, there is no ultimate purpose, there is no moral “ought” or way we are supposed to live… therefore there is no right to criticize a God which to you doesn’t exist by a moral “ought” which likewise does not.

The irony is that the same people will argue that object morals don’t exist – are the same ones who will use arguments about God allowing evil as their grounds for atheism, or will criticize the God of the bible on “moral” grounds – saying He is evil and vindictive, harsh, etc… However, they have given up that privilege of making objective moral distinctions by rejecting objective morality. On top of that – objective morality is only possible with God… therefore, they borrow from a theistic perspective to even criticize theism – in effect, whether wittingly or unwittingly, (and I know this will sound harsh) they sit on the lap of God to slap Him in the face…

The emotional struggle:

The emotional burden is answered in the Cross of Christ – as the only one truly innocent suffers the most on our behalf – but not only that, He was God Himself… so though evil and suffering exist – God is not unattached from the experience of the reality of it. When we are fat and happy, we are generally content with ourselves, even if the majority of our neighbours in the world live in hunger or suffering.  It is precisely our hungers, our sicknesses, and our pain that remind us that we are not happy in this world, and cause us to look for hope beyond what we see here. This is why CS Lewis wrote:

“…the human spirit will not even begin to try to surrender self-will as long as all seems to be well with it…God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscious, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”  – The Problem of Pain, pg 92-93

I love the moral argument, because it exposes how apart from God, we all borrow from His graces to insult Him. God has every reason to give up on every one of us, even the most ‘good’ of us, yet He doesn’t because of His love and grace.  If anything, the more difficult question is perhaps not why does God allow so many to die, but rather how can a Holy, Just, Righteous God allow so many sinful, depraved, rebellious ones to live?! This is the perfect opening to show that even despite our willful and brash rebellion, God does not leave us alone to our own well-deserved fate, but comes near – and shares in our suffering to make a way. The reality of suffering actually shows more painfully clear the lavish love of God shown to us in the incarnation, that a Holy God would come near and take on human flesh and be subject to suffering at the hands of the ones He created. It is a love that is not of mere sentiment but full of sacrificial action.

” but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us…” (Romans 5:8 ESV)

Only with God is there hope for the redemption of suffering to be meaningful. Rabbi Abraham Heschel says it clearly: “Faith like Job’s cannot be shaken because it is the result of having been shaken.” The question is not whether if His loved and elect should suffer, but rather how much – as He skilfully uses it as His tool for His loving work. Those who believe know, that often the times of most blessing of the peace and presence of God is in the midst of the storm – when He stands with us in the boat and calls out to the waves of our heart, “Peace be still.” As with the 3 Hebrew boys in the flames, or in the den of lions, or before the councils persecuted for the faith – He is most tangibly present in the midst of our suffering. He knows our hurt. And for those who have mourned, we know that in those times what is of most comfort isn’t what is said or given to you – but to know that someone who cares for you is with you. Also for the believer there is hope beyond the grave:

“I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, for all the blood that they’ve shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Apart from God, the atheist is left to meaningless suffering of life. Ultimately he cannot complain on any objective grounds, only a personal preference as the world is just as it should be if you believe in Darwinian naturalism. There is hope only found in Christ, who is making all things new and according to Colossians 1:8 reconciled all creation to Himself.

 

QUESTION 3: “Relative and Absolute Truth”

I’m not going to spend too much time on this section as I’d like to spend more time on the last one… so I am just going to briefly answer a few of the questions relating to this to get the conversation started and leave it up to you to take further…

Isn’t truth relative?

People often say, “I don’t believe in absolute truth, isn’t all truth relative?” To which the response is – are you absolutely stating that all truth is relative? Is that statement relative also? The statement is self-defeating. Argument and debate only are valid if there is an objective truth we are trying to find. If truth is only subjective and relative to each person, then why are we even arguing right now? It is preposterous – to live this way would eliminate science which depends on the assumption that there is a truth about the world we are trying to find and establish through hypothesis and experimentation to verify them. No one actually lives like truth is relative – it is a luxury only to abstract philosophy but ultimately an untenable position. Absolute truth must exist. And by its very nature, truth is exclusive – since whatever is opposed to a true statement has to be false. It is the law of non-contradiction.

It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere.

Sincerely swallowing two white pills may cure your headache if the pills are aspirin. If they are roach poison, results may differ. I guess a person could be sincere in what he or she believed, but be sincerely wrong. Ultimately faith is only as valid as the object it is placed in.

Isn’t it narrow-minded to claim that only one religion has the truth?

This comes back to the point that truth by its nature is exclusive. So then it would follow that all religions cannot be true at the same time if they have different claims to truth. They can all be wrong, but they can’t all be right. By this property of truth though – its exclusivity – I find a strong argument for Christianity. For every other religion is a system of works to do enough good to attain salvation or nirvana, a better reincarnation, or whatever. However, in Christianity we are not saved by how good we are or our works. We are saved by grace, through faith – not of works. (Ephesians 2:8) So Christianity stands distinctly exclusive to all other religions – this resembles a lot what we should expect a worldview that is true to look like.

Aren’t all religions the same?

This is a fundamental misunderstanding of world religions and is in fact insulting to religions to group them together like this. I would say that all religions may be superficially similar, but fundamentally different. They differ in how they answer the questions of life, morality, purpose, destiny, sin, salvation, the afterlife, the nature of God and the nature of man. The similarities in the end are actually superficial at best. You cannot compare a monotheistic religion like Islam with a polytheistic religion like Hinduism or an atheistic religion like Buddhism and say they are the same. This is an uninformed maxim made popular by pop-culture, but is actually poorly substantiated.

Aren’t all religions just different paths to the same destination? Like different paths up a mountain but they all lead to the same place?

This statement assumes we know where all the paths ultimately lead. If we take the analogy of paths up a mountain – how would we know which paths actually led to the top and which had a dead end? Someone on the ground looking up could not see this from their perspective. Only someone with a God’s-eye-view could see where all the paths led. You’d have to be looking top down. However, who is the only one with this view? God. So by saying that all paths lead up the mountain – guess who you’re claiming to be… This statement presumes too much about the ability of humans to know – we are not all knowing. Therefore we are dependent on the One who does have the top-down view to tell us the path to life.

In one sense though, all religions do lead to God – for we all must stand before Him at the judgement throne. But only one leads to His grace and forgiveness.

“… it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment…” (Hebrews 9:27b ESV)

This is a great lead on to my next point…

 

QUESTION 4: “The trustworthiness of the Bible”

Why should I trust the Bible over other religious books?

As I look at all the religions of the world, only two stand out as having valid historical claims – Islam and Christianity. So these would be the two I would logically look at if I were searching for a religion by which God has revealed Himself to us. If we compare the two texts, the Bible comes out superior in its truth claims, manuscript evidence for inerrancy of transmission, how well it conforms to reality and science and non-contradiction. I don’t have time to go into the study of the Qur’an in depth – but I would encourage you to look into it yourself. (Nabeel Qureshi is an awesome Christian apologist who deals a lot with Islam) Here I will just focus on the details for the credibility of the Bible.

Prophesy in the Bible:

The Bible is actually not one book as some skeptics mistakenly assume, it is sixty-six books written by forty different authors from different walks of life, written in three different languages and taking nearly sixteen centuries to complete. How could we possibly have this amazing congruity if it wasn’t for God guiding the authors’ hands? Some of these writers were separated by vast distances and gaps of hundreds of years. We see in Psalm 22, the Psalm of the Cross which Jesus quoted in Matthew 27:46, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ described in such detail nearly a thousand years before it occurred and hundreds of years before crucifixion was even invented! (I’d highly urge you to read this Psalm in its entirety – bearing in mind it was written about 1000 years before Jesus)

Isaiah is estimated by some to have been written some 700 years before Christ, yet in it we find some of the most precise prophesy about Jesus – his virgin birth, his suffering and crucifixion. Prior to the discovery of the dead sea scrolls in the 1940s, a lot of critical Bible scholars believed Isaiah must have been written after Christ’s life because of how accurate and specific his prophesies are and how they line up with Jesus’ life. However, once the scrolls were found, and dated unquestionably to around 125BC proving finally that Isaiah was indeed written before Christ and that what was written then lines up with what we have now in our modern Bibles. Incidentally, and amazingly, probability experts tell us the mathematical odds of just forty-eight prophecies regarding one person (i.e. Christ) coming true as foretold are one in ten to the 157th power! That’s ten with 157 zeros behind it. To give you an idea of just how big that number is, that is more than what is estimated to be the number of atoms in the entire observable Universe!!!

Manuscript evidence:

The Bible is without doubt the best documented book from the ancient world. No other document of antiquity has nearly as much evidence to confirm its reliability. There are presently 5,686 Greek manuscripts for the New Testament. If we add the ancient copies in other languages such as Syriac, Latin, Coptic and Aramaic we would have to add a further 19,000 copies to the count. This brings the New Testament manuscript tally to over 24,000. But let’s say we put all of those into one building and then burnt the building down… what then? Would the New Testament be lost? Nope. There are still so many writings from the early church pastors and commentators which quote scriptures in their writings and sermons that we would be able to reassemble the entire New Testament! On top of that, there are more than 10,000 Old Testament manuscripts. I will focus on the evidence for the New Testament though, since if you prove the New Testament, you get Jesus, and Jesus affirmed the Old Testament – so by default you get a pretty good case already for the Old Testament.

The closest non-biblical writings that we have to the New Testament that were probably written within the same time in history are those of Pliny (Ad 61-113). There are only 7 copies of this work. Not only that, the time span between the original and copy is about 750 years! If we compare other ancient texts: Plato only has 7 copies – the earliest is 1200 years from the original. Herodotus has only 8 copies, the earliest is 1300 years from the original. Caesar has 10 copies, the earliest is 1000 years from the original. Tacitus has 20 copies, the earliest is 1000 years from the original. Homer’s Illiad is probably the closest that any other work will come to the New Testament’s manuscript evidence. It has 643 copies, and the earliest copy is 500 years from the original.

The New Testament dwarfs them all; it has over 5600 copies (not including the other copies in other languages) and the earliest copies are less than 100 years after the original. There is a copy of a fragment of John’s gospel (P52) which dates to only 29 years after the original in the John Rylands Library in Manchester England. Not only that, the textual consistency with the modern versions we have is 99.5% pure with most of the differences being mistakes in grammar and punctuation which do not substantially affect the meaning of the text. Nothing comes close even by a long shot. This in itself might be considered a miracle!

The way God has preserved His word is absolutely nothing short of astounding. If critics want to dismiss the New Testament as reliable, they also would have to dismiss the reliability of Plato, Aristotle, Caesar and Homer along with all of ancient history. The claim by other religions and skeptics that the Bible has been corrupted is blatantly ridiculous in light of the evidence.

The testimony of the early martyrs:

All of the disciples except John were executed for the sake of what they believed. And with John it wasn’t for lack of trying – they boiled him alive in oil and he wouldn’t die, so they exiled him to Patmos. We can tell from their writings that these men were sane, intelligent and honourable men. Much of the teachings they wrote about was centred around truth, virtue, morality and proper conduct – so what would we say would be evidence to discredit their character to imply that they would lie? Not only that, sane, reasonable people don’t die for a lie! Especially not torturous deaths like they endured. Not only that, much of the early church was under intense persecution and many thousands lost their lives for what they believed. Many of these would have been alive during the time of Jesus, and would have been eye-witnesses themselves. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 references 500 who saw the risen Christ with the implication to his readers that they could go check them out for themselves and ask them.

If what the apostles were preaching was false, it would have been very easy to discredit them since there would have been sufficient people alive who would have been there around the events to silence the movement before it had time to pick up momentum. Legends take a lot more time to develop. If we look at the rapid spread of Christianity in the early church, where thousands were coming to faith – the only plausible explanation would be the weight of the early eye-witnesses who people could speak to themselves and get the facts. The fact that the Gospel has been spread in the face of the blood of the martyrs is a great testimony to the veracity of the message that people were willing to die for the truth. Even how close to the events the New Testament books were written shows their truthfulness, since it would only have been a gap of a few years, within a generation – and indeed some of the NT writers appeal to this fact – that there are still eye-witnesses alive who could attest their story.

Furthermore, the content of the Bible is way too inconvenient to the authors to be embellished. There are rather embarrassing accounts of the disciples which portray them more as bumbling fools and not getting what Jesus was trying to teach them repeatedly. Also the inclusion of the testimony from the women, who at the time would not have been the first choice for eye-witnesses is not something they would have used if they were trying to embellish a story and give it credibility. The inclusion of embarrassing information attests to the fact that they were trying accurately record the truth and not change it for their own benefit. Also, the New Testament is full of promises of suffering for the sake of Christ, persecution and hardship – who would make up a religion that promises these things if they were trying to make up a religion to suit themselves? The Gospel offends and confronts us with our own sinfulness in such a way that it clearly shows it is not a human effort to tickle the ears.

Non-Biblical Evidence:

Josephus (AD 37-101), a Jewish historian, is probably one of the best known extra-biblical testimonies to the Bible. He writes about John the Baptist and Herod, Jesus, James – Jesus’ brother, and Ananias the High Priest. Tacitus (AD 55-117), a Roman historian, mentions Jesus and writes about Nero’s persecution of Christians. Thallus (AD 52) writes about the eclipse of the sun and an earthquake which is speculated to be connected with the Crucifixion. Pliny (AD 112), governor of Bithynia, mentions Christ and writes about the customs of the Christians to gather and worship Christ. The Talmud records Jesus’ crucifixion. Lucian (Ad 120-180) writes about Christians, their worship of Christ who was crucified. All these are close to the time of Christ and the events, and they are sources which would have no bias and would in fact be opposed to Christians sometimes.

 

Concluding thoughts:

In light of all the evidence only briefly addressed here, and the many more which I haven’t covered – it is reasonable then to believe in the faith we hold. It is reasonable for us to stake our all on Christ – as he called us to die to ourselves to find that we would truly live. The call of the Christian is to bet it all because it is a safe and sure bet. We can gladly lay down our lives for the sake of the Gospel with full assurance that it is true – God exists, we are sinners in need of Grace, He has loved us and sent His Son to die for our sins… and the same God which miraculously preserved this message for us, is able to preserve our souls into eternity. Let us continue to study to shew ourselves approved workmen unto God, continue to research and equip ourselves to always be ready to give an “apologia”, and to be bold in our witness and proclamation of the best news in the Universe!

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Some Apologetics Resources:

Here are some apologists and writers you can look up on google or youtube. They also have published books on various apologetics topics which are easily found if you search their names on Amazon.com or another bookstore.

– Ravi Zacharias
– William Lane Craig
– Michael Ramsden
– Nabeel Qureshi (apologetics to Islam)
– Alister McGrath
– Francis Collins (genetic scientist)
– Lee Strobel
– Daniel B. Wallace (Biblical scholar)
– Frank Turek

Online:
www.rzim.org
www.reasonablefaith.org
www.biologos.org
www.reasons.org
www.carm.org
www.crossexamined.org

YouTube Channels:
The One Minute Apologist – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCXkgIl5W-HXG8-srQdyAbDw
Apologetics Canada – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCdxnoWgNWJLEipq4pdhm9DA
Theology, Philosophy and Science – https://www.youtube.com/user/godlogicscience/

This isn’t a definitive list of Apologists or resources, but hopefully it will be enough to get you started on your own research. Some of these resources do have differing opinions on their positions for creationism, etc – however my point in this right now is not to prove which to believe, but to direct you to some resources which you can evaluate yourself and form your own conclusion in light of the evidences presented. I hope it will help and bless you greatly! Thanks.

 

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Sermon Audio:

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