Saturday, May 13, 2017

Cold-Case Christianity For Kids: Investigate Jesus With A Real Detective - A Book Review

Round Two

So, there I was again. Another book graciously given to me by J. Warner Wallace mocking me from my cluttered desk. Cluttered like so many other flat surfaces at home and in my office. My mind brooded over my last painful experience with completing a book review of God’s Crime Scene. The unpleasant memory wasn’t due to any quality of Wallace’s work. If anything reading God’s Crime Scene was refreshing and entertaining. So, Wallace’s writing wasn’t the problem. No, it wasn’t him. It was me. The lifelong compulsive procrastinator. The guy who can’t seem to start anything until a crisis is looming. At least now I had a explanation for my behavior. An explanation, but not an excuse as the literature on attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder so often reminds its readers. I had been diagnosed with ADHD a few months prior to beginning to write this review. The clutter, the procrastination, the forgetfulness, the quickly drifting attention, the pervasive, nagging sense of underachievement. It all made sense now. And… wait what was I writing about? Oh yeah, an apologetics book for kids. Right… pardon my ADHD in action.

ADHD and Hyperfocus 

Or maybe I was going somewhere with that thought. Now I remember. The reason I bring it up actually has a lot to do with apologetics and my formative years as a teenager. Hang with me here. There is one quality that people with ADHD have that most people do not know about. Individuals with ADHD have a tendency to hyperfocus. What does that mean? I'm glad you asked! Hyperfocus is the term smart folks with credentials attached to their names use to describe what happens to the ADHD brain when it latches onto an activity, idea, or thought process like a leech and sucks the life out of it only to drop it like a hot-potato without warning at some unpredictable moment. In other words, the same person who can’t listen to you talk without his mind involuntarily drifting off into the stratosphere after 5 seconds despite his best efforts may often feel compelled to sit down and write very carefully crafted paragraphs quibbling about the nuances of theology, apologetics, or politics for hours, losing all track of time in the process only to suddenly lose interest in the activity. Hyperfocus. Yep. That’s me!

Hyperfocus and Doubt 

Did I mention that another paradoxical quality of ADHDers is that it often drives them absolutely insane when other people don’t get to the point, while they simultaneously have a strong proclivity to chase rabbits and consequently fail to get to the point? I’ve already rambled about ADHD for two paragraphs with little discussion of Wallace’s book. Case in point. So, here’s why I bring all of this up. Because of my tendency to hyperfocus my mind often relentlessly broods about big questions for extended periods of time. This started very early in my teenage years. And the big questions my mind would latch onto like a leech were often questions about the truth of Christianity. I didn’t just have a few casual passing doubts. I made doubt a mental bloodsport to the point of clinical depression.

And then at the age of 32 I received a copy of Cold-Case Christianity For Kids and after reading it I thought to myself: “Where was this book when I was a kid?” If only my parents had had the resources we now have for the apologetic task, maybe, just maybe my life could have gotten on track much earlier. Maybe my mind would have hyperfocused on examining the evidence instead of getting bogged down in a seemingly endless string of unanswerable questions. But, better late than never. God did eventually bring the right people and resources into my life that would help me find satisfying answers about the truth-claims of Christianity. And now I’m grateful for the apologetics resources I have available to help my children avoid the pitfalls I did not know how to avoid as a teenager. In the following book review I’ll explain why Cold-Case Christianity For Kids is one of the tools I’ll be keeping in my toolbag for the task of teaching my children about the evidence for Christianity.

Enough Rambling Prolegomena - Let’s Get To The Book! 

So, why should I buy this book for my children? Inquiring minds want to know! Well, what a happy coincidence, because inquiring minds is exactly who this book is written for. Afterall, J. Warner Wallace is a career cold-case detective, in case you didn’t know. And an inquiring mind is usually a prerequisite for that kind of job. His inquiring mind eventually led him from atheism to Christianity when he decided to apply his unique skill-set as a cold-case detective to the claim that Jesus rose from the dead. Much to his surprise that investigation turned his worldview upside down and now he’s writing books defending the truth-claims of Christianity.

Cold-Case Christianity was the first of those books and it was written for an adult audience. Cold-Case Christianity For Kids takes the content from the first book and makes it accessible for young readers. I’ve been reading it to my six year old son and he has been enjoying it. I know because he has asked me to read it to him several times. I’m also confident that the book will keep the interest of children who can read it on their own. The chapters are short, the content is interesting, and there are illustrations on every page. Hey, I’d even say that if you’re an adult with ADHD looking for a concise and entertaining defense of Christianity, this might be a good, albeit unusual place to start. And why not? Us ADHDers are often overgrown kids with an affinity for the unusual, anyway! The rest of you “normal” grown-ups can always pick up one of Wallace’s grown-up books, which are also very good.

The Gimmicky Stuff 

What makes all of Wallace’s books attractive is what I endearingly call “the gimmicky stuff”. By that I mean all of the detective themes artfully woven into his books. What Wallace always does well is blend his experience as a cold-case detective into a tasteful concoction of apologetics and investigative techniques particular to his craft. This book is no exception and it also manages to make it work very well for young readers. In the introduction Wallace promises that by reading his book “You’ll learn how to be a good detective, and you’ll also learn how to investigate the case of Jesus.” I read the book cover to cover and I think he delivers on both of those promises.

Wallace places his readers smack-dab in the middle of the storyline of the book. The moment you begin reading you join a group of kids who are training to become student police cadets at the police department over summer break with Detective Jeffries as your guide. Together you learn to use investigative techniques to solve mysteries - one involving a skateboard and the other involving the claims that God exists and Jesus rose from the dead. Lessons you learn from investigating the skateboard progressively shed new light on your investigation into the truth-claims of Christianity.

What makes this journey so invaluable is that in the process you are not only learning about the evidence for Christianity, but you are being encouraged to practice essential critical thinking skills applicable to all aspects of life along the way. There are a few twists and turns as the story unfolds with a bit of a surprise ending concerning the mysterious owner of the skateboard as the case is cracked. If you made it that far, then congratulations! You have learned a lot about what it means to be a good detective as well as what evidence there is that God exists and Jesus rose from the dead. And all that in only 119 generously illustrated pages. The ADHDers of the world salute you, Detective Wallace!

But, Seriously. Here’s the Point… 

And if you have ADHD and made it this far I salute you, too! Although, it’s more likely that you just skipped to the last paragraph, isn’t it? No worries. I understand completely. At any rate, Here’s what I think it a nutshell. The book is well-designed and well-written for young readers. It immerses them into a story, a learning process, and an investigative discovery that will help them become more informed about the evidence for Christianity and will challenge them to become more careful and rigorous thinkers in general. The latter alone would make it worth your time and money. After all, How many people nowadays teach kids critical thinking? This is all bolstered by a companion website to the book which features free videos, printable worksheets, and a certificate you can use to reward your kids for finishing the investigation. And, of course, since Wallace has already published a version of this book for adults you can join your kids in the investigation as well and make it a family activity. Or if you have ADHD, like me, maybe you’ll just read the version for kids, too. Whatever tickles your fancy.

Either way, what’s not to love? Wallace just dropped a great apologetics resource in your lap that will help you prepare your children to think about their faith intelligently. And I can tell you from experience, it’s better for them to learn that sooner than later. So, do your kids a favor and give them a fair chance to avoid crippling doubts by teaching them good reasons to believe. Then maybe their young minds will be focused on the right things, instead of being distracted by nagging questions, like my ADHD brain was for so long. If that sounds like a desirable outcome for your children then I highly recommend Cold-Case Christianity for Kids. It’s one of the best tools available for the job.


Monday, January 18, 2016

God's Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe - A Book Review

A Brief History of a Reluctant Book Reviewer

I sighed despondently as the book that I had been asked to review once again caught my attention. Still lying there, right where I left it, reminding me of my unfulfilled promise to J. Warner Wallace. I had a free advance copy of God’s Crime Scene on my desk. I’d had it for months. Why was I so hesitant to take on the task of reading and reviewing it? As I was lost in my thoughts it struck me. I was pretty sure this was going to be boring. I’ve had an interest in apologetics for several years. I’ve read several books, watched numerous debates, and listened to countless hours of podcasts. Was this latest popular-level apologetics book going to tell me anything I hadn’t heard before? Doubtful. This was probably going to be a drag.

Reluctantly I picked up the book. Getting started is half done. Or so they say. I read the introduction. Then the first chapter. After a few more reading sessions it occurred to me that I was actually enjoying this book. Most of the material was familiar, but the way Wallace presented it didn’t feel stale or redundant. From cover to cover it kept my interest and I even learned several new things along the way, in addition to deepening my understanding of topics I hadn’t given much attention to in the past.

I’m confident that if you take the time to read this book, whether you’re well acquainted with contemporary apologetics or are looking for good introduction, you’ll find the experience both informative and entertaining. In the spirit of the apologetic task, I’ll do my best to make a defense of my assertion in the following paragraphs that reading this book will be well worth your time. Since other reviewers have more that than sufficiently summarized the content, my review will give a broad outline of the arguments, while focusing more on format and other aspects that make the book an enjoyable and informative read.

A Cold Case Detective Looks at the Evidence for God’s Existence

To begin with a few words about the author are in order. J. Warner Wallace comes from a family with strong roots in law enforcement. In keeping with past generations Wallace has made a lifelong career in the field and his professional journey shaped him into an astute Cold Case Detective who has worked on several cases that have received the attention of the main-stream media. However, Wallace has also broken the family mold significantly. Although he comes from a family with a dedication to serve and protect he doesn’t come from a family with a long Christian heritage. His journey from atheism to Christianity was a result of following numerous lines of evidence that led him to the conclusion that God exists and has revealed himself through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In his book, God’s Crime Scene, Wallace shows readers how applying the skills he acquired as a career detective to the question of God’s existence compelled him to abandon atheism. He invites the readers to follow the evidence, to think carefully about it, and to determine for themselves whether his conclusions are warranted by the evidence.

Unsolved Mysteries Meets Contemporary Apologetics

In some ways reading Wallace’s book evokes the same kind of intrigue that kept the now defunct crime documentary series Unsolved Mysteries running for so many years. Wallace starts each chapter with a description of a case he worked on and then begins to outline how his experience with each investigation relates to the search for evidence of God’s existence. As He readily admits, some of the details of the crimes are disturbing. His experiences with cases involving apparent suicides, abducted children, gruesome homicides, and other crimes all have something to tell us about the case for God. Yet, while navigating us through some of the harsher realities of human nature he handedly succeeds at making this strange concoction of seemingly unrelated elements work together beautifully to guide us to the conclusion that God exists.

In keeping with the detective theme Wallace starts the book with an Opening Statement in which he makes his intent clear and outlines the various lines of evidence the book will pursue. In seven chapters he investigates the evidence from the beginning of the universe, the fine-tuning of the universe, the origin of life, the signs of design in biological organism, and our experience of consciousness, free will, and morality. Before making his Closing Argument he also dedicates a chapter examining what detectives call exculpatory evidence. In court cases exculpatory evidence exonerates the defendant from guilt. In other words it disqualifies the person from being a suspect in the crime. All of the aforementioned lines of evidence point to God as our suspect, because purely natural explanations fail to account for the beginning and fine-tuning of the universe, and so forth. However, if there is conclusive evidence that disqualifies God, then the other lines of evidence become largely irrelevant. That is where the Problem of Evil comes in. Does all of the seemingly meaningless, gratuitous evil in the world disqualify God from being our suspect in a search for an explanation of all of the facts we know about the universe? Wallace makes a convincing case that it doesn’t.

The only detail he omitted that I would have liked to see him discuss is the distinction between the logical and probable version of the Problem of Evil. The very fact that virtually no respected philosopher defends the view that it is logically impossible that God exists in light of all of the evil in the world is a significant concession. The best the atheist can hope to do is to show that God’s existence is improbable given the amount of gratuitous evil in the world. A short paragraph pointing this out would be worth including. Nonetheless, the points he makes in his argument are sufficient enough to show that the Problem of Evil isn’t then death knell of theism.

Throughout the main chapters of the book Wallace includes several handy tools designed to help the reader make her own thoughtful investigation and look more closely at the various details in the case for God. This includes useful illustrations that summarize and clarify the content presented in each chapter and descriptions of investigative techniques used by detectives to solve cases he nicknames Tools for the Call-Out Bag. The brief profiles of Expert Witnesses, which include scientists and philosophers from various religious and nonreligious backgrounds, who are experts in their field are also helpful.

After making his Closing Argument Wallace includes about another seventy pages of content he calls The Secondary Investigation. This contains more detailed material for readers who want to dive deeper into the arguments made throughout the book. Numerous additional illustrations are given there that aid readers in wrapping their minds around the gritty details of the various points and counterpoints made in exchange between those who argue for and against the existence of God. Lastly, Wallace includes a bibliography he calls the Case Files, which list the Expert Witnesses mentioned in each chapter as well their published writings that are relevant to the topic and, in keeping with the theme, the end-notes, which are labelled Investigative Notes.

From start to finish Wallace demonstrates how one can apply all of the tools in a cold case detectives repertoire to the question of God’s existence and come out the other side with God as the most likely suspect in the search for an explanation for all the facts we know about the universe. The overall effect of the mixture of the thematic elements from Wallace’s background in crime scene investigation with cutting-edge apologetics arguments is one of true-crime suspense intermingled with a logical force that draws the reader to the most reasonable explanation of the evidence: God exists!

Does Wallace Succeed?

Now, I can almost hear the sarcasm-laden thoughts of my more cynical readers with whom I am not entirely unsympathetic given my own cynical inclinations: “This sounds like a cute gimmick!” Well, maybe. But if it is, it is a very thoughtful, sophisticated, well-played, and highly entertaining gimmick. But one way or another the question is: Do the arguments and evidence succeed in making a case for the existence of God? I am persuaded that the evidence Wallace provides warrants the conclusion that God exists. But, you shouldn’t take my word for it. At the end of the day, the only way to be sure is for you to jump into the investigation yourself. And I can’t think of a more enjoyable way to get started than by reading God’s Crime Scene. At minimum Wallace’s book is a great place to get a broad overview of some of the leading contemporary arguments for the existence of God in an entertaining way. It also provides enough information to guide readers who want to continue their investigation by reading the works of the primary contenders in the current debate. Overall, God’s Crime Scene is a useful tool for fair-minded seekers and skeptics, a refreshing treatment of familiar content for amateur apologists, and well-researched, popular-level apologetic for the existence of God.


Monday, January 16, 2012

Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from its Cultural Captivity - A Book Review

Total Truth

In her book “Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from its Cultural Captivity” author Nancy Pearcey discusses the way the modern mind has been fragmented into a split between the realm of facts and the realm of values. To be clear she believes that this development, which started with the emergence of Platonism, is an error which needs to be corrected so that Christian truth-claims can once again have a place at the table in the public arena. For the Christian, who is completely unaware of this problematic development, reading Pearcey’s book will be both highly engaging and very enlightening. Her writing has both theological and philosophical depth, yet is written an accessible manner that both the scholar and the laymen can appreciate. Pearcey sheds a great deal of light on the precarious predicament modern Christendom is presently in. In her book she offers helpful suggestions on how Christianity can once again thrive despite its ongoing battle with Postmodernism.

The Fact/Value Split

As mentioned above the overall theme of the book is the impact of what Pearcey calls the Fact-Value Split. Because of various philosophical developments throughout history, Western Civilization has determined that only what is deemed to be objective, factual information, such as scientific discovery, is appropriate for public discourse. On the other hand, anything that has to do with values or belief, such as morality and religion, is relegated to the private realm. This latter realm is thought not to have any objective basis and is, in fact, entirely subjective, having no factual foundation. It is easy to see how this is a problem for Christianity, since it is inevitably relegated to the subjective realm of faith and values.

Destructive Consequences

According to Pearcey, the results of this paradigm are far-reaching and largely destructive. Because of this way of thinking most Christians live as if they were suffering from split-personality disorder. On the one hand there is their professional life, which takes place in the public realm of facts. And then there are their Christian beliefs and values, which have no place in the public realm. Consequently, they leave their secular work place, go home to their families and churches, quietly practice their faith, and the two worlds never intersect in a meaningful way. Thus, the Gospel is restrained to the private sphere and is rarely permitted to venture into the public where chastisement awaits those who dare cross the line.

A Battle of Worldviews

Christians must break out of this mold by reclaiming Christianity’s hold on the whole realm of truth. In our modern context this means challenging the naturalistic worldview that lies at the foundation of the Fact-Value Split. Christians must expose the weakness and error of Darwinism, which declares that we are nothing but biological machines created by blind, impersonal forces and that consequently we have neither freedom of the will nor the ability to know objective truth. If we can defend the Christian view of origins, namely that we were created by God, then much of battle is already won. Where we came from says a lot about where were going. If we were created by God then we have real value. Even though we fell from grace we have hope, because Jesus died and rose again to redeem mankind.

How Do We Turn Things Around?

It seems that one of the underlying purposes of Total Truth is to help create a cultural milieu in which the grand narrative of salvation history can again be viewed as intellectually viable. In order to accomplish this goal Pearcey recommends a blend of presuppositionalist and evidentialist apologetics. Christian’s should appeal to people’s common sense beliefs. This beliefs include among other things, that we can trust our everyday sense perceptions, that we have free will, and objective moral values and duties exist. These are our basic presuppositions. Then Christians can use various evidentialist arguments to demonstrate that the Christian worldview is the only worldview that can adequately account for these basic beliefs that everyone shares, if not in theory, at least on a practical level. Some people may deny that we can’t trust our everyday sense perceptions, that we don’t have free will, and that objective moral values and duties don’t exist in theory, but in reality nobody lives life as if these basic beliefs were not true. This betrays the fact that their worldview is grossly inadequate. Christians can get their foot in the door by gently exposing such inconsistencies and offering Christianity as the only viable alternative. Readers who are willing to challenge their thinking and their behavior will benefit greatly from these and other insights offered in Total Truth. If the church would rise from its slumber and take on the poisonous worldviews that people are succumbing to, then great things could be accomplished for the Kingdom of God.


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Running on Empty?

"So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ."
- Romans 10:17

How easy is to fade slowly into spiritual inertia? You wake up one day and realize that you are almost totally without passion for God or the gospel of Christ. Your everyday routine is characterized by indifference to spiritual things and preoccupation with rote performance of mundane tasks, chores and duties and you're focused on the trivialities of life. Where is your zeal for the Lord? Where is your love for God? Again you've fallen into the trap of being consumed with the everyday diversions and distractions to the neglect of your spirit.

Now what?

Well, chances are you got there by allowing matters of lesser importance take precedence over time spent in solitude listening to the word of Christ. And where is the word of Christ contained? Come on, it's not rocket science! The bible, of course. Once again you thought you could get by without hearing is voice daily. Instead of reading his word you watched the news, read the latest New York Times best-selling spiritual self-help book, or mowed the lawn - anything really besides spending time listening to his voice.

How you got there should give you a clue as to how to get back to where you should be. Yes, the news is oh so urgent, you really want to finish that book so you'll finally know how to get your best life now, and the lawn is looking pretty shabby. But you know what? The world won't crumble if you if miss out on the latest developments in politics. In fact, the talking heads will be blabbing about the same things for at least the next week, so catch up on that later. And that self help book your reading may be all fine and good, but chances are if it contains anything of value then the author borrowed it from the book you really should be reading instead. I'll even go out on a limb and say that if you put off mowing the lawn for another hour the homeowners association won't come beat your door down.

Keep Listening

Did you really think hearing the word of Christ once was enough? Yes, when you heard the gospel for the first time you felt faith well up inside of you and you felt on fire for the Lord. But now you have to continue hearing the message of Christ to keep that fire going. It's not a "once and done" deal. Faith comes by hearing. So if you want to continue to have a faith that's ablaze and characterized by a deep passion for God, then make sure you keep hearing the message of Christ. Spend time in his word. Study it. Meditate on it. Memorize it. Cherish it. And while you're at it don't forget to do what it says! You do that and you just might wake up and realize that all those pressing concerns really weren't so pressing after all. And who would seriously want to trade them for a relationship with the living God, who is our most pressing concern, anyway?


Thursday, July 28, 2011

What Hills Are Worth Dying For?

A Common Idiom Applied to Christian Theology

In military campaigns hills are often strategic locations from which to wage war. When the enemy has set up shop on a hill to gain an advantage the commander must decide whether attempting to force the enemy to abandon their fortress will be worth the lives it will cost to accomplish the task. In other words, is it a hill worth dying for? This idiom has been used in various ways, but I think it could also be applied to Christian theology.

Two Hills Worth Dying For

There are some doctrines that are indispensable to the Christian faith. Perhaps the most foundational of these is the belief that God exists. You don't get a divine savior of the world if there isn't anything divine in the first place. It's safe to say that the existence of God is a hill worth dying for in regards to the Christian faith. But theism is a good ways away from Christian theism. In order to get that you have to have Christ, and more specifically the resurrected Christ. So another essential component of the Christian faith is not so much a doctrine as it is an event: The resurrection of Jesus Christ. If there was a man who claimed that God would raise him from the dead and actually made good on that claim, then Christianity is looking pretty superior to other world religions, and Jesus' claim to be the divine savior of the world is looking very credible. The death and resurrection of Jesus is definitely a hill worth dying for. The belief in the existence of God and the event of the resurrection are like the engine of a car - you're not getting anywhere without them. They may not be the only hills a Christian should be willing to die for, but they are probably the most important.

Unnecessary Causalities of War

Unfortunately, some Christians can't seem to distinguish between the essential and second-order doctrines of the Christian faith. Though their intentions may be good the result of raising second-order doctrines on par with essential ones can be very costly. This can be observed when a teenager is taught her whole life that the belief in a literal 6-day creation is a hill worth dying for, and ends up pursuing a degree in science at a secular university. In her science classes she is convinced that the earth is billions of years old, which conflicts with her former belief that the earth was created in 6 days and has only been around for a few thousand years. Now if she still believes that young earth creationism is an essential tenant of Christianity, then at best she'll deny the doctrine of inerrancy. But it's also probable that she'll end up abandoning her faith all together, as many teenagers do once they leave their home church and go off to college.

A Word of Admonition

Of course these kinds of scenarios could be avoided if Christians were taught to keep all doctrines in proper perspective. The young woman described above didn't need to abandon her faith or even deny the inerrancy of scripture merely because she was persuaded that young-earth creationism is false. Had she been taught to take a more reasonable stance in regards to other views, she could have adjusted her beliefs about the age of the earth without the essential tenets of her faith being affected. But unfortunately there are many like her that end up throwing out the baby with the bath water and deny the existence of God and the resurrection of Jesus just because they were convinced that an opinion they held about a second-order doctrine is false. The same can be said of non-believers who reject Christ, because well-meaning Christians have told them that they can't be Christians unless they affirm a particular view concerning a non-essential tenet of the Christian faith. This is tragic. As Christians we need to do a better job of distinguishing between the essentials and non-essentials so that we don't end up endangering people's faith on account of hills that aren't worth dying for.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Twofold Purpose of Apologetics

Apologetics Defined

Perhaps we should start by defining the word "apologetics". As they say,  "that's a pretty big word, like 'mayonnaise'" that not everyone is going to be familiar with. First of all, apologetics has nothing to do with apologizing for anything, especially the Christian faith. So, let's get that out of the way right off the bat. The word "apologetics" is derived from the Greek word "apologia" found in 1 Peter 3:15, which admonishes believers always to be ready to make a defense (apologia) to anyone who asks for a reason for the hope that is in them. Christian Apologetics may be loosely defined as a branch of theology that seeks to defend the truth claims of Christianity. For example, a Christian apologist may seek to defend Christianity's claim that Jesus rose from the dead or, on a more foundational level, that God exists.

Objections to Apologetics

Now many have objected that only a doubting Thomas would need to have their faith defended. Don't we just take things the existence of God the resurrection of Jesus by faith? To which I reply, "Of course! And Muslims take it by faith that Allah is God and Mohammed is his prophet. But what makes your faith any more legitimate than his?" You might want to reply by offering some good reasons why Christianity should be embraced and Islam rejected. But if you do that, well then you've engaged in Christian apologetics! At this point you may retort that you can't argue anyone into heaven, and you'd be absolutely right. Salvation is accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit who enlightens the hearts and minds of sinners. But has it ever crossed your mind that the Spirit of God uses sound reasoning as tool the free those who are dead in their sins from the shackles that have bound their minds? Giving some one good reasons to trust in Christ doesn't usurp the power of the Spirit - it's function of the Spirit itself! 2 Corinthians 10:5 says, "We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." That's precisely what the Christian apologist seeks to do! Non-Christians often reject Christ, because of anti-Christian arguments and pretensions that have enslaved their minds. We are called to demolish their objections so that they can be free to embrace the knowledge of God.

So What's the Point?

In answering some objections to apologetics we already, in essence, unveiled the twofold purpose of apologetics. Simply put, Christian apologetics can accomplish two things if done well. First, it can strengthen the faith of those who have already placed their faith in Christ. Did you know that the vast majority of the kids in our churches' youth groups will drop out of church indefinitely after they go to college? You know one reason why this happens? They've spent their whole lives in a church that hasn't done jack squat to prepare them to stand firm in their faith in the real world. And once they enter that world the enemy of the souls uses every means possible to squash their vulnerable faith. They go on to attend a liberal arts college and inevitable register for a class taught by some atheist ideologue who's had a lot of practice students' faith to shreds and he takes great pleasure in doing so. Things might turn out very differently if the church would start taking apologetics seriously.

The second purpose apologetics can serve is evangelism. In case you haven't noticed many people nowadays will just as likely believe in fairies and leprechauns as in a resurrected Jesus. In that kind of intellectual climate it's imperative that Christians come prepared to make a well reasoned case for the Christian faith. Doing so can take away the defenses around the unbelievers' heart and mind and bring them closer to a point where they are willing to give Christianity some serious thought. As we already discussed, that in itself isn't enough. The Spirit of God has to be at work in their lives. But if we allow ourselves to become a tool of God by preparing ourselves to demolish objections to the Christian faith, we'll give the Spirit of God a lot more to work with.


Monday, July 18, 2011

On Doctrine and Motivation

In the previous post, "Why Doctrine Matters," we discussed the fact that doctrinal beliefs have real consequences in the life of the Christian. This reality demonstrates the significance of sound doctrine. What we as Christians believe about God, the bible, salvation, judgment, and a number of other topics deeply influence how we live out our faith. As I said, this is one reason why doctrine matters. But there's more to it than that.

On Doctrine and Pragmatism

Christians shouldn't care about doctrine merely because it affects how they live. That is to say, we shouldn't primarily be concerned with pragmatism. Pragmatism is a poor arbiter of truth. If you recall the two persons from the previous post you should remember that one was a Universalist and the other an Exclusivist. I argued that the beliefs of the former would likely lead to a life devoid of fervent evangelism and the latter would in many cases lead to a life characterized by an evangelistic disposition. Now it would be easy to say that the Exclusivist must be correct, because her position lead her to preach  the Gospel to the ends of the earth. But that isn't necessarily true. You don't determine which doctrines are sound by examining what the individual outcomes of the doctrines are and by then choosing the one that leads to the outcome you most desire. Notice, I'm not saying that Exclusivism is false. The point is merely this: Just because a certain belief leads to a desirable outcome doesn't make it true. Telling a child that his face will be frozen into a permanent grimace if he doesn't stop making such ugly faces may lead to the desirable outcome that he believes the parent and behaves more civilly, but that doesn't make the belief that making ugly faces will cause your face to petrify true. Again, pragmatism is a poor arbiter of truth.

Inadequate Sources of Doctrine

What then makes a doctrine true? It's not the outcome of the belief, we know that much from the discussion above. It would be foolish to say that our personal opinion is the deciding factor, either. You've probably heard the old adage, "Opinions are like...", well you get the idea, everybody has one! But our opinions are just that: opinions, and they may or may not be based on fact. Well, let's consider another popular candidate: Tradition. Ah yes, as Christians we love tradition, don't we? Or at least we did until the 16th century when tradition entailed things like selling indulgences. Give money to the Pope and he'll knock off a few years of purgatory for your late uncle Friedrich. Then guys like Martin Luther decided that maybe tradition shouldn't be the authority on what's true about God after all. Spring forward about 4 centuries and now most protestants look to the traditions that developed during the reformation to tell them what sound doctrine is. Am I the only one seeing the egregious irony in this whole development? I can hear a well meaning minister saying, "You shouldn't look to human tradition to tell you what sound doctrine is. You need to forget all that an read the reformers!" Huh?! You wanna run that one by me again? I digress...

Theotrinsic - Growing in Spirit and in Truth out of a Love for God

Maybe, we should be looking somewhere entirely elsewhere. I don't know, like, the bible for instance. Now there's a concept! If you haven't figured it out already that's where this is going. We need to take off our tradition tainted glasses and lay fresh eyes on Scripture. Don't let your pastor tell you what to believe, he may have it wrong! And if he's worth his weight in gold he'll tell you the same thing! Scripture is God's holy Word to us. Shouldn't that excite us? The most powerful being in the universe, and beyond the universe, has a message for you. Wouldn't you like to find out what it is for yourself? Doctrine matters simply because it comes from God! True doctrine flows from his Word that he gave to us and if we really love him will we not inevitably want to know what doctrine he has communicated to us? Wouldn't we want to study it and defend it simply because we love the God from whom it comes? Why do you think godly Christian scholars, ministers and laymen spend countless hours pouring over commentaries, Greek and Hebrew manuscripts, theology and apologetics books and articles? Because they couldn't find anything else to do with their time? No! Because they love God and they want to know him more! Now you don't have to become a scholar to prove you love God, but every Christian should challenge himself to grow in the knowledge of God more and more until the King of Glory comes! Doctrine matters because it's the message of God and we should apply our minds to understand and defend it, because we love our King!