Monday, October 30, 2006

Giving an Answer (2)

Our apologetics is to be Christ-devoted... but, what does that lead to in practice? Three foundations:

1.Ready to give an answer – an apologia

It's the scout motto - “be prepared”. And its common sense for life. When you have an exam to sit, you get prepared. It's called revision! If someone asks you to come for dinner you expect that they will be ready when you arrive. When it comes to conversation about Jesus it makes sense to think hard about what we might say in advance. It matters – because this relates to our discipleship – to wholehearted holiness about God. Life is of course spontaneous but Peter says, get ready. And what are we ready for? Apologia. Ready to give an answer.

The word means a “back-word”. A defence. That doesn't imply negativity, as they say – the best form of defence is attack. A positive answer. If we look at how Paul talks about Jesus in Acts we'll see that he is a master of this apologia. He is an apologist.

Which sounds negative – but its not about apologising, its about giving an Apologetic for the gospel. Defenders of the Faith, doing Apologetics. Apologists. It's the word for his preaching in Acts 22v1, Acts 25v16, Philippians 1v7 and 1v17. In Philippians it's mostly translated as a defence of the gospel. Argument for the gospel.

Elsewhere we find Paul rigorously proving, arguing, persuading people about the gospel (Acts 6v11, 17v3-4, 18v28, 19v8). He uses rigorous argument to explain in words what the gospel is about – as Jesus does in explaining the meaning of his death in Luke 24. Because the gospel is an objective sensible message. It's outrageous and scandalous in much of its claims. But it does also make sense. And a Christian must be ready to give an answer.

One caveat to this is what Paul himself says in 1 Corinthians 1-2. Here he says that he doesn't use wise and persuasive words. So, is he contradicting himself? No. There he says that he doesn't use the rhetoric of his day, he doesn't trick people with clever words and manipulate them into believing with heart-string stories. Rather he argues persuasively and proves rigorously the message of the Cross. He explains and proves from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ – God's saviour. And that will help us as we come to construct some answers we can use.

2.When someone asks for an answer give the reason – a logos

Peter says simply when someone asks for an answer be ready to give an answer. Obvious really! This isn't to say we wont initiate conversation. Our news about Jesus Christ Crucified is too important to be held back and only mentioned when someone enquires.

But, says Peter, at the very least, when someone asks you better have a good answer. And that answer is a logos, a reasonable answer. The gospel isn't ethereal it makes sense.

Notice that this is in the context of suffering. Peter says earlier that they'd better be suffering for genuine Christian faith, and if so they can rejoice in that. And as they suffer for doing good then people will enquire. Apologetics has its foundations in people asking us to speak about Jesus because of the way we live for Jesus. It's the consequence of wholehearted discipleship.

3.Gentleness and respect

When I said attack is the best form of defence some of us rejoiced inside. Some of us love a good verbal fight. We love to get into the argument. Apologetics is not about the fight. Its about the answer to the question and its about Jesus being Lord. Our aim isn't to win a fight, we might lose it, but to be gentle and respectful. Meek and trembling as we answer.

Sometimes the obvious thing to do is to seize on someones poor argument, but the gentle thing to do is not to go for the kill. Why? Because going for the kill can make people look stupid and humiliate them. And ultimately we want to win them to Christ.

This gentleness and respect is the mark of a life lived for Jesus. A gentleness. A humility. Life that isn't proud raises questions. Life that doesn't always defend itself, though it will defend the gospel. Life that doesn't fight for its rights. Life that doesn't fight every charge against it. Life that loves and cares and admits when it gets it wrong.

The other reason we can be gentle is that it's not down to us to win things, ultimately. The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit uses God's Word to open people's eyes. And so though we might make the perfect argument, if the Holy Spirit chooses not to open someone's ears to hear that then it wont make any difference. If it all depends on us we have to beat people down – but if we have a high enough view of God's sovereignty then we can be gentle and respectful. Urgent but patient. Clear and kind.

Francis Schaeffer said that love is the final apologetic, it's also the first. James Sire notes that “Apologists must preserve the dignity of the person asking even the most silly question” - just because someone has defective ideas doesn't make them a defective person. And some questions are genuine obstacles, others are simply asked to try and stump us. It's best to assume the best of motives in the questioner, and gentle probe further.
Apologetics, good answers in love.

21 comments:

  1. The question that I have for you is how can you put so much faith in a book that was written a long time ago and yet dismiss other similar books as mythology (the Koran, Homer, etc)?

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  2. Hi Anonymous... happy to respond if you'd like to say who you are? Bit hard to interact without knowing anything about u.

    At no point in the above post have I asserted anything about Homer or the Koran. I have assumed the truth of the Bible and I'm happy to write on that soon - and intend to do so.

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  3. Yes, sorry, my name is David. It was more of a general question prompted by your assertion that Christians should always "be prepared" to have a response (not an apology and I appreciate the distinction).

    Presumably as a Christian you believe that what is written in the bible is true, and what is written in the Koran and the Iliad (for example) is what? Wrong? Misleading? Delusional? Mistaken?

    This isn't related to your post, but if you are interested I would like to enter into a discussion with you.

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  4. Hi David,

    I do believe that what is in the Bible is true. Why I believe this is important to how the discussion develops. My convictions are based on taking it on its own terms, as a verifiable claim to being true.

    In terms of Homer's works - I've read some of the Odyessy. I don't think it really proports to be "history" though if it is I'm not sure that requires much response from me - whereas a true Bible requires major change.

    In terms of the Koran, its an unverifiable book. I'm prepared to accept that Muhammed wrote it, I'm just not convinced that I should follow what it says. But I'm happy to take it on its own terms and admit I don't believe in the god it presents. That's the honest approach, I think.

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  5. You say that you take both the Bible and the Koran on their own terms and yet say that one is verifiable and the other is unverifiable. Could you tell me in what way you see the Bible as being verifiable.

    For my part I do not believe that your or any other god exists. This is because no-one has presented me with any convincing evidence that they exist, and I see no evidence in the bible either. Your Richard Dawkins post is what originally brought me to your site.

    I wouldn't want for this discussion to be one-sided, so if you have any questions for me I would be pleased to answer them.

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  6. I say verifiable in the sense that the truth of the Bible is conditioned, explicitly, on the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus. If the events didn't happen then Christianity is wrong - and that can be checked by evidence. If the evidence doesn't hold Christianity is to be abandoned.

    I don't think that holds for the Koran. You can't really go and check who said it to Muhammed and whether what he was told was accurate. It may or may not be true but there's no real way of knowing.

    I guess I would ask you: on what basis you can be confident that no god(s) exist, and I'd also ask whether you've checked the evidence for whether Jesus was resurrected, because that is the most compelling evidence for the existence of God that I've seen.

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  7. If I understand you correctly, you are saying that the resurrection of Jesus can be confirmed by historical evidence, and because the Bible describes the resurrection in a way that matches the historical evidence, then the rest of the Bible must also be true and it therefore follows that Christianity is true because it is based on the truth of the Bible.

    To answer your first question I would say that I am not confident that no gods exist, but the preponderance of evidence (or lack of it) leads me to that conclusion in the same way that presumably you have concluded that Thor, Odin, unicorns and Father Christmas also do not exist.

    It is interesting that you claim that the resurrection of Jesus can be checked by evidence, which leads on to your second question, where you ask have I checked the evidence. In response to this I can say that the only evidence that has been presented to me so far is in the Bible, which I find to be no more convincing as history than Homer. If you know of any other independent evidence then please let me know where to find it.

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  8. I do think the primary evidence of the resurrection of Jesus is the Bible. It is a book written to present that evidence to us, written at the times the events happen.

    Not sure why independent evidence is required - independent of what?

    To my mind the difference between the Bible and the limited about of Homer I've read is that I can accept or deny Homer with no change to my life, but the Bible sets itself up to stand or fall on the historicity of the resurrection... and if (and I know it's an IF) that event did happen I think we have to take seriously the surrounding claims.

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  9. I don't want to sound provocative, but the Bible is not a historical document. In order for the events described in the bible to be confirmed as history we would need evidence from somewhere else, for example archeological evidence or independent contemporary documentation.

    Also the Bible isn't even contemporary of Jesus - the earliest gospel was written at least 50 years after his crucifixion by someone who had never met Jesus. There might be historical evidence for some of the bible stories, but there is certainly none for the resurrection itself, which is what you have based your whole religion on.

    Do you believe that Jesus literally rose from the dead? And you believe that because it is written in the Bible? Do you also believe that everything the bible claims to have happened actually did happen, for example the stories of Lot, Jonah, Samson, Lazarus, or any other of the events that we would now say were impossible?

    When you say you can "accept or deny Homer", what exactly do you mean?

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  10. Hello David,

    Concerning the resurrection, try The Resurrection of Jesus as a Historical Problem by N.T. Wright.

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  11. Re: Homer. I'm saying that I'm not sure how it effects the way I live my life whether what he writes is accurate history or not...

    I do believe that the Bible is an historical book (just as you believe it isn't). The reasons for this are numerous. Chief among them is that I'm convinced by it's portrayal of Jesus Christ - which I find consistent and compelling and life changing. It's intellectually rigourous and existentially satisfying.

    But, it's not just that. All the New Testament writers claim to be writing careful history. Peter insists in his letters that he's not telling "cleverly invented stories". Paul stakes everything in the historicity of the resurrection, and Luke presents painstakingly accurate evidence for the life/death/resurrection of Jesus.

    Now, a claim doesn't make it true. But truth claims ought at least to be considered.

    It's fine to say we have to appeal to additional evidence - but what makes that other evidence valid? What evidence will substantiate that evidence? Do you see what mean? At the end of the day whether something is true or not is the issue - and we determine that for ourselves by considering the evidence presented.

    As with all things, the argument is somewhat circular. I don't think I would expect you to accept the truth of the Bible (particularly any of the peculiar but possible things you note) unless you accepted what it says about Jesus. If it's chief claims are too much to handle then I can't see the rest following... if it's chief claims are true then the rest probably falls into place.

    Keep provoking.

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  12. In what way does the bible affect the way you live your life? Is it a daily event that you think "what would Jesus do", without wanting to come over all american. Can you give me an example of when you decided to do something based on what you know about what happens in the bible, or what the bible instructs you to do?

    I'm still unclear as to why you think the bible is a historical book? You say that the argument is circular, and that is exactly one of the reasons why I view the bible as being no different from La Morte Darthur and the Da Vinci Code. Both claim to be true fact, but you agree with me for both those stories and acknowledge they are not historical, although perhaps they both (in common with the bible) have some basis in historical fact.

    I understand you (and believe you are being truthful) when say that you believe that what happened in the bible did really happen. I want to understand, though, how you come to that conclusion for this particular book, but not the many others, especially when the bible makes such outlandish claims and is riddled with inconsistencies, ambiguities and contradictions. Even if, as you say, we accept that because it makes claims to be true and we consider them, why do we not immediately dismiss these claims as nonsense when the first book talks about the world and everything else being created in six days. This is no more credible than ladies in lakes and turtles.

    The more evidence you have the more credible the original claims. And the more extraordinary the claims, the more extraordinary the evidence must be. If I claimed to have a tortoise in my garden you would probably take my word for it. A scorpion might require a photo, but a unicorn would require significantly more proof. Walking on water nowadays would come under the unicorn category, let alone a claim that was 2,000 years old.

    I'm not trying to ridicule you, convert you, goad you or patronise you; I am just trying to understand your point of view.

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  13. Hi David,

    Sorry for the delays in this reply. I'd love to know what you make of my more recent post here: Contradictory, Unreliable & Irrelavant. It's a 20 minute talk on the Bible. It isn't that thorough due to time constraints.

    You asked how the Bible changes my life.
    On a worldview level it means I live with hope beyond this life. It means live knowing that this life isn't all there is. It was the Bible that caused me to think that people knowing Jesus is the most important thing in the world and caused me to resign from working for a bank 3 years ago and take up my current job instead. More daily it helps me be thankful for all the things I have in life, from food to a roof over my head, to my wife. And it helps me to love my wife.

    I accept someone may do all of these without the Bible, but it was the reason why I've done these things.

    Historicity of the Bible and it's testimony.
    It is a matter of belief. But belief in it is based on evidence. Much of that is in the Bible. But if it is accurate history then it's fine to believe that isn't it.

    The specific factors are its claims to being historical, the sincerity of its writers, the verifiable information in it's details - geographically and with other historical sources.

    "especially when the bible makes such outlandish claims and is riddled with inconsistencies, ambiguities and contradictions.

    I have to say I don't think that your allegation is true - though we can discuss specifics if you like. You say that creation in six days is in-credible. It would be if God were not who the Bible claims him to be.

    "Walking on water nowadays would come under the unicorn category, let alone a claim that was 2,000 years old."

    Again, incredible for someone to walk on water... except in the circumstances of Jesus being God - as the very same texts assert. If it actually happened it doesn't matter how long ago it happened. In a world where the God of the Bible were non-existent or non-involved then what the Bible says would make no sense. But if it's right then I'd say it's claims are perfectly credible...

    David, I don't feel ridiculed. I'm enjoying this interaction and am happy to continue it.

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  14. I had a read of your recent post, and it seems that most of your beliefs come down to one circular argument that what it says in the bible is true because it says so in the bible. Can you confirm that this is your argument? And so I am never going to understand your position until have faith in the bible myself?


    a. The Bible is a library of books to be treated literally – as literature – narrative, poetry, letters and other genres. It has two volumes: The Old testament and new, with a total of 66 books.

    Is every word in the bible to be treated literally or as literature? Is "Fathers must not be put to death for what their children do" (Deut 24:16) as moral a law as "If a man is caught having sexual relations with a married woman both the man who had relations with the woman and the woman herself must die" (Deut 22:22)? Do you believe both of these laws should become part of today's moral code? And if one and not the other, how can you pick and choose what is moral and what isn't?


    b. The Bible was always highly regarded and so was preserved carefully and distributed widely as God's message for the whole world.

    According to this article, the Old Testament Jewish canon took over 400 years to stabilise, and was not complete over a thousand years after the first was written. The New Testament canon was still in disupute in ecumenical councils in 300 years after Jesus died, and all the Christians in the world still cannot decide what is the true word of God.


    c. The oldest New Testament documents date to within a generation of the event they record, which is better than anything else in antiquity.

    What is your reference for these documents being the most contemporary documents in antiquity? Pliny witnessed the Vesuvius eruption in Pompeii (I could ask where was your God then? But that is for another day.) in 79 CE and Thucydides was a general in the Peloponnesian War that begain in 431 BCE.


    d. The authors of the New Testament in particular are not portrayed in a good light. This doesn't prove the authenticity of what they write but makes it unlikely that they set out to deceive us.

    Why does it make is more unlikely? It could be a cunning double-bluff to make you think this way.


    e. The Bible writers are convinced that they are documenting history. It is not fiction. It is not invented stories. Everything is staked upon the historicity of the events they record. A potential weakness but one that makes it possible to examine Christianity.

    It does not claim to be invented, but that does not mean that it is not invented. I have still not seen any evidence from you of the historicity of the bible other than, "because it says so in the bible", which is illogical and unreasonable.


    f. Written over 1600 years by 40 authors who were “kings, diplomats, poor people, fishermen, tentmakers”. who wrote in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek from Asia, Africa and Europe. A global book.

    I cannot really dispute this.


    It is a matter of belief. But belief in it is based on evidence. Much of that is in the Bible. But if it is accurate history then it's fine to believe that isn't it.

    The specific factors are its claims to being historical, the sincerity of its writers, the verifiable information in it's details - geographically and with other historical sources.

    Of course, accurate history should be believed, and we are now getting some real hints at historical evidence - geographical and other historical sources. Can you give me any contemporary historical sources to any event in the New Testament other than the Bible? I think we are both agreed that the bible itself doesn't contain any contemporary material about any of the fundamental claims of Christianity (virgin birth, resurrection, etc).

    You say that the bible is the reason why you love your wife. Why do you need the bible to love your wife? If you suddenly discovered that you were wrong and that that Jesus had never existed (something you have admitted may be true) would you also stop loving your wife?

    Finally, and on a separate point, I think you need to read this.

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  15. Firstly, let me accept your grammar rebuke. I could blame the English education system of the 1980s, but I've had enough time to learn myself...

    I think the central point is that no-one will accept the truth of the Bible until they accept the rule of the Jesus who is at the centre of it. This is circular, but no-more than most other arguments - perhaps including yours not to believe it until you have other reasons. I'd love to link you to an article on this by a friend, but it is offline at the moment.

    I have a PDF which I'll try to get online in the near future.

    The references you quote from Deuteronomy should be taken as literature. That is, they are specific laws given to a specific group of people (detailed within the law itself). I do not think they apply today, since they were specifically for the people God rescued from Egypt.

    My source for the claims in b) & c) are the writings of Amy Orr-Ewing of Oxford University and The Zacharias Trust.

    I grant that the claims to authenticity and the admissions of failings prove nothing - as I stated. But I agree with CS Lewis' assertation that sincerity is something the New Testament writers have. They may have been deceived, but they really don't come across as decievers.

    Yes I would love my wife if the Bible wasn't true. But the way in which I love is shaped by what the Bible says, and I do think that is a bit different to human instinct. Certainly our ability to forgive, bear with one another and not fight for our own rights is guided by the Bible's teaching. Perhaps I'd have learnt that another way, but you did ask me how it has changed me.

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  16. This is the article I've found helpful on circular logic - it is a bit long... so no complaints if you don't want to bother with it.
    David Gibson: For the Bible tells me so?

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  17. I need to accept the rule of Jesus before I will be able to understand how you can say that the bible is true. OK, teach me. How do I go about accepting the rule of Jesus? What do I need to do or believe to understand where you are?

    I still refute your assertions that the bible is the most contemporary (or even a contemporary) source in antiquity unless you can give me exact sources for the references, rather than just names. I feel that this, however, is one point that we can agree on. Do you disagree with any of the statements below?

    1. Thucydides and Pliny wrote historically accurate documents.
    2. They both lived through the events they were describing.
    3. Therefore they were both contemporary in their writings.

    If you agree with these statements then your assertion "the oldest New Testament documents date to within a generation of the event they record, which is better than anything else in antiquity" is not factually correct. And it is fine to get things wrong sometimes.

    It is interesting that you say the laws in Deuteronomy do not apply today. When was this decided? And by whom? And does this mean you can blame the son for the sins of the father? Do none of the laws in Deuteronomy not apply today? And if I were reading the bible on my own, how am I to know that these laws do not apply, but other Old Testament laws do apply?

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  18. I need to accept the rule of Jesus before I will be able to understand how you can say that the bible is true. OK, teach me. How do I go about accepting the rule of Jesus? What do I need to do or believe to understand where you are?

    I still refute your assertions that the bible is the most contemporary (or even a contemporary) source in antiquity unless you can give me exact sources for the references, rather than just names. I feel that this, however, is one point that we can agree on. Do you disagree with any of the statements below?

    1. Thucydides and Pliny wrote historically accurate documents.
    2. They both lived through the events they were describing.
    3. Therefore they were both contemporary in their writings.

    If you agree with these statements then your assertion "the oldest New Testament documents date to within a generation of the event they record, which is better than anything else in antiquity" is not factually correct. And it is fine to get things wrong sometimes.

    It is interesting that you say the laws in Deuteronomy do not apply today. When was this decided? And by whom? And does this mean you can blame the son for the sins of the father? Do none of the laws in Deuteronomy not apply today? And if I were reading the bible on my own, how am I to know that these laws do not apply, but other Old Testament laws do apply?

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  19. "the oldest New Testament documents date to within a generation of the event they record, which is better than anything else in antiquity"

    I think what I meant was that we have documents dating back that far. Granted my source for that isn't that I've seen them, but the testimony of others. My language wasn't all that helpful here. Sorry.

    Regarding the Old Testament law - I think there are two things. When we read a command we need to ask if the intended audience is specified - which it is in the Old Testament Law. The New Testament also states that the law had a temporary function. That function was chiefly to help the people of Israel see their need of being rescued by God. A rescue acheived by Jesus - who fulfills all the promises of the Old Testament.

    Jesus tells the religious leaders of his day that if they really understood the books of Moses they wouldn't be law-keepers but would believe in him. Which means seeking his rescue of them.

    How to submit to the rule of Jesus... essentially becoming a Christian. Which means an acceptance of two things - one that you're a rebel against your maker, and second that you can't save you but he can - and will do so freely. In accepting what he says in this matter life begins all over again. Christians are described as new creations. People counted perfect by God, though living imperfectly - whose goal in life is to know and enjoy God.

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  20. The Ten Commandments are in Deuteronomy as well, so do they not apply any more? I find it confusing that there has to be a whole age of tradition about what is and what is not applicable when reading the bible. If the bible is the word of god, then surely it should be accessible to all people who read it? Why do I come to a completely different conclusion from you when I read it, and lots of other branches of Christianity also come to different conclusions. How do I know that your version is true and not any other version? Or is the particular branch of Christianity irrelevant and it all about the fact that I have accepted Jesus? Why is god so ambiguous? It would have saved a lot of trouble, pain, suffering and killing if god had made himself clear from the start, wouldn't you agree?

    OK, so I need to accept that I am a rebel against my maker and I can't save myself but he (Jesus or God?) can.
    Are you describing me as a rebel because I don't believe in god at the moment? What about the the 2,849 deities that you don't believe in? You are atheistic about all those gods, aren't you?

    Does saving myself mean not going to hell? I can't do anything personally to stop myself going to hell; I only won't go to hell if I accept that I am a rebel and then Jesus will freely save me and let me go to heaven? Have I understood you correctly?

    If that is the case then it sounds a lot like blackmail to me - accept me or you will go to hell. Do you believe so you can avoid going to hell? Doesn't Jesus love everybody and he died for all our sins? Even my sin of not believing in god?

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  21. I am atheistic towards other things - I guess I'd call them "not gods".

    You should leave rebellion behind not to avoid hell but because the alternative is an eternity with Jesus which beats everything else.

    About why u'd want to spend eternity with Jesus (youtube)

    Jesus doesn't love everyone in a saving sense. He'd want all to be saved, but his love for his creatures is matched by his careful personal anger at our rebellion against him.

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