Category Archives: Mentoring

Of course you’re smart enough to learn how to defend your faith

Practice that makes perfect
Practice that makes perfect – everyone struggles at the beginning

Pastor Matt Rawlings has a post for all of you who are worried that you are not smart enough to learn how to defend the Christian faith (apologetics).

His post is here on his blog. (H/T The Poached Egg)

He starts like this:

One of the objections I often receive when I point out that defending the Christian faith is a Scriptural command (1 Peter 3:15) is “But I’m not smart enough to be a Christian apologist!” My answer is always, “Your IQ does not need to bust the bank for you to defend Christianity in a graceful and compelling manner.

Columnist Thomas Friedman (not someone I usually agree with) pointed out that the key to success often is NOT an individual’s IQ but their CQ or “Curiosity Quotient.”  What Friedman means is that a person’s willingness to dig in and work at something out of their intellectual passion will succeed.

It is important to remember that some scholars maintain that Albert Einstein did not have a genius IQ and he blew his first attempt at earning a spot in college.  Yet, physics was his passion and after failing to land a teaching gig, his curiosity propelled him to carry on and, as a result, he changed the world.

You may or may not make a worldwide impact but you can make an eternal one by learning to defend the Christian faith.  If you are passionate about Jesus Christ, your desire can learn enough to answer questions like, “If God exists and is good, why is there evil?”, “Doesn’t the Old Testament portray God as angry and violent?”, “But doesn’t science prove that Genesis is inaccurate?”, “Is there any real evidence for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ?”, etc.

Any Christian can learn to defend the faith if they are willing to do a little bit of reading.  You don’t have to be well-versed in physics or philosophy of religion.  You don’t have to earn a degree in apologetics.  You just need to pick up a few books and memorize a few solid arguments to respond to the most common objections to Christianity.

I would recommend starting with a few short, readable but powerful books such as Greg Koukl’s Tactics (Zondervan 2009), Det. J. Warner Wallace’s Cold-Case Christianity (David C. Cook 2013), Lee Strobel’s The Case for a Creator (Zondervan, 2005), Mark Mittleberg’s Confident Faith (Tyndale 2013) and, of course, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek (Crossway 2004).

So, no excuses, get to reading and practice defending the faith with others.  Anyone can do it and most can do it very well.

I just started trying to get a friend of mine to learn more about the Christian worldview, and the four books I recommended were these:

  1. Is God Just a Human Invention? (by Sean McDowell and Jonathan Morrow)
  2. The Case for Life (by Scott Klusendorf)
  3. What is Marriage? (by Robert P. George, Ryan T. Anderson and Sherif Girgis)
  4. Indivisible (by Jay W. Richards and James Robison)

We are busy working though the first one already, which is my favorite book to give people new to apologetics. It provides real capabilities in a short, easy-to-read book. Even the chapters are short. I picked #2 and #3 to be on social issues, and #4 to be on politics, because I wanted to have a broad focus before narrowing down to pure apologetics. And because I wanted to take about practical issues that impact our daily lives.

After we finish book #1, I’m going to recommend “Cold Case Christianity” by J. Warner Wallace and “The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus” by Michael Licona and Gary Habermas. All of these books are introductory. And yet, to be perfectly honest, I do not recommend much more than these 6 books, for most lay Christians. These books are a thousand times better than the stuff I read when I was getting started in apologetics 25 years ago.

What I like about Pastor Matt’s post is that he challenges Christians to grow by doing things that may be a bit uncomfortable for them. The command to defend the Christian worldview is right there in the Bible in 1 Peter 3:15. It’s not some optional spiritual gift in some list of optional spiritual gifts – it’s a duty that we all must perform to the best of our ability. I wish more pastors urged lay Christians to learn how to discuss their faith with non-Christians – with people who do not assume that the entire Bible is infallible. Just urge them to talk about ordinary things, the “big questions” that Matt listed. We need to be curious, just like he said.

William Lane Craig discusses faith and reason with university students

This is an interview of Dr. William Lane Craig before college students at the University of Central Florida. (95 minutes)

You can get an MP3 of the lecture here. (33 MB)

Questions from the interviewer: (40 minutes)

  • What started you on his journey of studying faith and reason?
  • How would you define the word “faith”?
  • Are faith and reason compatible? How are they related?
  • How can reasonable faith help us to avoid the two extremes of superstition and nihilism?
  • Who makes the best arguments against the Christian faith?
  • Why are angry atheists like Dawkins and Hitchens more well known than better-informed academic atheists?
  • Does the Bible require Christians to give the unbeliever reasons for their faith?
  • How does faith spur Christians to think carefully about the big questions in life?
  • Should the American church prod churchgoers to develop their minds so they can engage the secular culture?
  • When talking about Christianity intellectually, is there a risk of neglecting the experience of being a Christian?
  • Which Christian apologist has shaped your thinking the most?
  • Which Christian philosopher has shaped your thinking the most?
  • Does the confidence that comes from apologetics undermine humility and reverence?
  • If you had to sketch out a 5 minute case for Christianity, what would you present?
  • Can non-Christians use their reason to arrive at truth?
  • Are there cases where atheists must affirm irrational things in order to remain atheists?
  • Can the universe have existed eternal, so that there is no need to explain who created it?
  • Even if you persuade someone that Christianity is true, does that mean they will live it out?

There is also a long period of questions, many of them hostile, from the audience of students (55 minutes).

  • Haven’t you said nasty things about some atheists? Aren’t you a meany?
  • What do you make of the presuppositional approach to apologetics?
  • Can a person stop being a Christian because of the chances that happen to them as they age?
  • Why did God wait so long after humans appeared to reveal himself to people through Jesus?
  • Can a person be saved by faith without have any intellectual assent to truth?
  • How do you find time for regular things like marriage when you have to study and speak so much?
  • How would you respond to Zeitgeist and parallels to Christianity in Greek/Roman mythology?
  • Do Christians have to assume that the Bible is inerrant and inspired in order to evangelize?
  • If the universe has a beginning, then why doesn’t God have a beginning?
  • Can you name some philosophical resources on abstract objects, Platonism and nominalism?
  • How can you know that Christianity more right than other religions?
  • Should we respond to the problem of evil by saying that our moral notions are different from God’s?
  • Define the A and B theories of time. Explain how they relate to the kalam cosmological argument.
  • How can Christians claim that their view is true in the face of so many world religions?
  • What is the role of emotions in Christian belief and thought?
  • Can evolution be reconciled with Christian beliefs and the Bible?
  • When witnessing person-to-person, should you balance apologetics with personal testimony?
  • Is there a good analogy for the trinity that can help people to understand it? [Note: HE HAS ONE!]
  • How can Christians reconcile God’s omniscience, God’s sovereignty and human free will?

This is a nice introductory lecture that is sure to get Christians to become interested in apologetics. As you watch or listen to it, imagine what the world would be like if every Christian could answer the questions of skeptical college students and professors like Dr. Craig. What would non-Christians think about Christianity if every Christian had studied these issues like Dr. Craig? Why aren’t we making an effort to study these things so that we can answer these questions?

It is really fun to see him fielding the questions from the skeptical university students. My favorite question was from the physics student who sounds really foreign, (at 1:19:00), then you realize that he is a Christian. I do think that Dr. Craig went a little far in accommodating evolution, but I put that down to the venue, and not wanting to get into a peripheral issue.

What helps young men resist peer disapproval?

Tough enough to not care about peer pressure
Tough enough to not care whether you approve of what he’s doing

A post by Nick Peters about young people and apologetics, at the Christian Apologetics Alliance blog.

Excerpt:

Now picture a teenage youth who is a Christian. Is he on the outs with his peers in any way? Well if he’s a good and observant Christian, he’ll be a virgin (since most teenagers in high school aren’t married). Will that lead to any shame to his peers? Yep. Especially since they consider “getting laid” to be a rite of passage and a sign that you are a real man or woman.

So what happens with a boy who’s seventeen and can drive and who is with the guys who are talking about their sexual exploits and the guy has nothing to contribute? If he is asked why he’s not “getting some” he replies that he is a Christian. Is that going to win him any friends? Nope. His “friends” there will most likely mock him for believing in antiquated ideas that science has disproven and tell him he needs to get with the times. Result? The young man is shamed.

Now imagine instead if he’s told the latter part about how his ideas are antiquated and instead, he’s able to make a rational case for the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Do you think he’ll be able to be shamed the same way? Sure, his friends can still mock him, but he can take the mockery as a sign that they cannot answer his arguments. The young boy has honor then, rather than shame. He might not be sleeping around, but he can hold his head high knowing he can stand up against his peers.

[…]No one wants to be embarrassed, and that includes youth, but if our young people think they can do something that none of their peers can do, it will help them to have that honor that they seek, and there is nothing wrong with seeking honor. Remember the parable where Christ told us to take a lowly position at a banquet so our host would say, “Move up to a better place” and we would be honored? He was saying that that is the proper way to receive honor. Don’t just go out and try to grab it. Let it be given to you.

There are many things that a young person can be ashamed of, but if they’re intellectually unprepared, being a Christian is something that they may be shamed for. In the face of temptation, they need a reason to be obedient rather than just, “The church says so” or “Mom and Dad say so.” Neither of those will be seen as honorable positions. They need to know for themselves why it is that they hold the stance that they do. If they are waiting until marriage, they need to know why. If they believe a man rose from the dead, they need to know why.

That youth are eating this stuff up should tell us something. Youth don’t want to be shamed in the eyes of their contemporaries. They won’t mind holding a different position as long as they can defend that position. If they cannot, then the tide of social pressure could be enough to get them to abandon that and if their emotions and wills start acting against Christianity, it is only a matter of time until the intellect follows.

That excerpt is basically a summary of my life – that’s how I started out as a teen – with apologetics. I’ve been a Christian the whole time in between then and now. I think many parents and churches are wondering how it is that you get a young man to stand up to the culture and peer pressure. The answer is apologetics, and I think integrating Christianity with every other area of knowledge helps as well. Winning arguments over and over is an excellent way to build a suit of armor against temptation and peer pressure.

And in speaking to young people who were raised as Christians then fell away, the common denominator is that they were uncomfortable claiming to be Christians in a secular environment. We have to have a plan to help our young people deal with pluralism and peer pressure. Apologetics is the best answer I can think of.

Are Christians responsible for making plans and making good decisions?

Here’s a wonderful post on decision making and the will of God posted on Neil’s blog. Neil links to another post where someone is trying to figure out what God wants him to do.

Excerpt:

Really short version: Aside from direct and clear personal revelation from God, you don’t have access to his sovereign will when making decisions.  Therefore you must look at other factors.  If it isn’t moral, don’t do it.  If it is moral but not wise, don’t do it.  If it is moral and wise, then use your personal preferences.

Using this model you can end up with a wise and biblical decision, but you have avoided the traps of the “God told me to ____” routine.  People who run around saying that God told them this and that convey a super-spirituality that can leave less mature believers wondering if they really have a relationship with God (i.e., “God doesn’t tell me every little thing to do, so maybe I don’t really know him.”).

He has a helpful picture posted as well:

This is actually a very important topic for me, because I like making plans and making good decisions. I like being the quarterback or squad leader of my own life. I like to pick objectives and then make plans to achieve them. (Nothing too exotic, just simple stuff like saving money or reading more books)

Actually, I really oppose the idea that God has a magical fairy tale will for each person that will make them happy and fulfilled. For me, life isn’t like that. I don’t expect God to lead me along like a child at a scavenger hunt. I expect to survey the battlefield where I am and then do something to make a difference. There are lots of things you can do that will please God. Should you focus on your career and sponsor apologetics conferences? Or should you use your spare time preparing Sunday school lessons? There are lots of good things you could do to please God. Your job is to pick the one that will be the most effective. It doesn’t matter if it makes you happy, it only matters if it’s effective and if you are good at it.

Who is Rifleman Dodd?

A while back, I was busily working my way through the U.S. Marine Corps Official Reading List, and I came across a book by C.S. Forester called Rifleman Dodd, or alternatively titled Death to the French. It’s a work of historical fiction that takes place during the Napoleonic wars. The story is about a British marksman named Dodd, who is cut off from his own lines during a withdrawal maneuver. He is subsequently left to fend for himself behind enemy lines. An ordinary man might be full of despair and forget about his mission entirely. But Dodd is no ordinary man. Not only does he find a way to survive by finding food to eat, water to drink and places to sleep, but he also tries to remember his orders and to think about what he can do to advance the cause of his General, the Duke of Wellington.

Here’s an excerpt from a gritty book review:

It’s about a green-coated British infantry rifleman in the Napoleonic Wars, an age when rifles were a novelty and most of the army was red-coated and carried muskets. Private Matthew Dodd gets separated from his regiment during a retreat and finds himself stranded behind enemy (French) lines in Portugal. With the occasional aid of some natives, but mostly on his own, he harasses the French with his rifle and tries to prevent them from building a bridge across the Tagus River. It’s a remarkable tale of survival and solitary achievement, of a rank-and-file soldier who lives by his wits and slowly learns to make plans without orders, and shows leadership qualities and a knowledge of warfare.

I think we’re in the same situation as Dodd.

There is no point in us looking for breadcrumb trails to happiness at this point. That’s not the point of Christianity. The point of Christianity is friendship with God, imitation of Christ, honoring moral obligations, self-sacrificial love for your neighbor (and even your enemies!), and dedication to the truth – whether anyone else likes you or not. It’s not supposed to make you happy, and it’s not necessarily going to be a normal life like everyone else has. Things may not work out the way you’d like them to.

We seem to be making such a big deal about compassion and forgiveness in the Christian life these days – such a big emphasis on our feelings. Almost like we have forgotten that we have obligations to our friend – and his objectives. A relationship doesn’t mean that one person completely disregards the character and goals of the other person and then is automatically granted forgiveness whenever they want it. That’s not a friendship – that’s using someone else for your own ends. Maybe it’s time to remember what this is all about.

On wargames, history and heroes: “this story shall the good man teach his son”

Memoir '44: Pegasus Bridge setup
Memoir ’44: Pegasus Bridge setup

Re-posting this old post because Dina and I spent Friday night playing games again! And this is one of my favorite posts. Last night was Portal 2 and Orcs Must Die! 2.

Last night, I played through the Pegasus Bridge scenario from the Memoir ’44 wargame with Dina a few times. We actually played the online version of the game, using Steam. She was very gracious to play a wargame with me, which I don’t think is necessarily the first thing on most women’s lists of things to do on a Thursday night! I appreciated her agreeing to learn how to play and then playing with me several times. I think that Christians need to plan and execute more “together” activities like that – activities that involve interaction, co-operation, communication and engagement. We try to avoid doing things where we are both spectators. Playing wargames is not the only thing we do – we also do Bible study and cooking lessons (for me), for example.

Anyway, the point of this post is to express the deeper meaning behind playing wargames. I think that it is important to recognize and celebrate those who have demonstrated good character, whether it be now, or in the past. I think that it is important for us to search out the best role models ourselves, so that they will influence the way we act in our own lives. The second world war was a clear example of good versus evil. Anyone on the Allied side who demonstrated bravery and courage should be celebrated for safeguarding the security, liberty and prosperity that we enjoy today. In the case of Pegasus bridge, the hero is Major John Howard of the British paratroops.

Here is a quick re-cap of his exploits that day from the New York Times:

Maj. John Howard, the commander of glider-borne British infantrymen who seized the strategically vital Pegasus Bridge in the first battle of the D-Day invasion of Normandy, died Wednesday in a hospital in Surrey, England. He was 86 and had lived in Burford, near Oxford.

Under cover of night on June 6, 1944, six gliders carrying 181 officers and men of the Second Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry landed on the eastern flank of a 60-mile invasion front on the northern coast of France. The regiment had a heritage going back to the battles of Bunker Hill and New Orleans, to Waterloo and to World War I. Now its soldiers were in the vanguard of the invasion of Hitler’s Europe.

Major Howard’s D Company was ordered to seize two bridges, one over the Caen Canal and the other spanning the parallel Orne River. If the Germans held on to those bridges, panzer units could move across them in a counterattack isolating 10,000 British paratroopers jumping behind the British invasion beach known as Sword, where infantry forces would arrive at daybreak. And Major Howard’s men sought to strike swiftly to prevent the Germans from blowing up the bridges if they were overwhelmed; the British needed those bridges to resupply their airborne units.

British Halifax bombers towed the gliders over the English Channel, then cut them loose.

Major Howard’s lead glider landed at 12:16 A.M., only 50 yards from the Caen Canal bridge, but the glider’s nose collapsed on impact, knocking everybody aboard unconscious for a few seconds. The soldiers quickly emerged, and over the next five minutes the men directly under Major Howard killed the surprised German defenders.

The nearby Orne River bridge was captured by other troops in Major Howard’s unit, and soon the words ”Ham and Jam,” signifying mission accomplished, were radioed to the airborne.

Two British soldiers were killed and 14 wounded in the operation.

Over the next 12 hours, British paratroopers and commandos reinforced Major Howard’s men, and British forces were able to move toward the city of Caen, their flank having been protected by the capture of the bridges.

On July 16, Major Howard received the Distinguished Service Order, Britain’s second-highest award for valor. On the 10th anniversary of D-Day, he received the Croix de Guerre Avec Palme from the French Government, which had renamed the Caen Canal span Pegasus Bridge, for the flying horse symbolizing the British airborne. The road crossing the bridge was later renamed Esplanade Major John Howard.

Why is this important? Well, it’s important to think on the things that are excellent. There are so many things in the culture that are not excellent that we are confronted with every day. We have to make it our business to do things together where goodness is celebrated. Especially when manly virtues like courage are celebrated. We don’t do that much anymore. And I think there’s a connection between wargames and Christian apologetics that we need to deliberately encourage.

Here’s an excellent passage from Shakespeare’s “Henry V” that makes the point:

This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say, ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian:’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say, ‘These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.’
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words,
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remembered.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be rememberèd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England, now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day. (4.3.43)

This is from the famous speech in which King Henry charges his men to fight well before the famous Battle of Agincourt.

You can read more about the history of the British Airborne division and Pegasus bridge. The famous historian of the second world war Stephen E. Ambrose also wrote a history of the Pegasus bridge battle, called “Pegasus Bridge: June 6, 1944“. You won’t find many military historians better than Stephen E. Ambrose!

You might be surprised how many men are interested in military history and wargames, precisely because men instinctively look up to men like John Howard who embody qualities like bravery and courage. We have a dearth of moral character in this society. And we don’t do much to teach young men about manly virtues, even in the church. I think that it is important for us to think of creative ways for us to present good character to our young men. Young women should also learn about good character, because they must separate out the good men from the bad when they are courting.

Thanks to Dina for helping me to edit this post!