Category Archives: Mentoring

Tactics: the worst mistake a Christian can make when doing apologetics

I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery
I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery

So, this is just an advice post for doing apologetics.

Here are three situations I’ve run into while doing apologetics in the last month.

First situation. I was talking with a lady who is an atheist. I had a copy of “God’s Crime Scene” in my hand, and she asked me about it. I told her that it was a book written by the guy who solved the homicide case that I asked her to watch on Dateline. She remembered – it was the two-hour special on the woman who was killed with a garrotte. She pointed at the book and said “what’s in it?” I said, it has 8 pieces of evidence that fit better with a theistic worldview than with an atheistic one, and some of them scientific. Her reply to me was – literally – “which denomination do you want me to join?”

Second situation. I was talking with a friend of mine who teaches in a Catholic school. She was telling that she got the opportunity to talk to her students about God, and found out that some of them were not even theists, and many of them had questions. So she asked them for questions and got a list. The list included many hard cases, like “what about the Bible and slavery” and “why do Christians oppose gay marriage?” and so on.

Third situation. Talking to a grad student about God’s existence. I’m laying out my scientific arguments for her, holding up the peer-reviewed papers for each discovery. I get to the Doug Axe paper on protein folding probabilities, and she holds up her hand. One question: “Am I going to Hell?”

So think about those three situations. In each case, the opponent is trying to reject Christianity by jumping way, way ahead to the very end of the process. When you do Christian apologetics, you do not take the bait and jump to the end of the process dealing with nitty gritty details until you have made your case for the core of the Christian worldview using your strongest evidence. Let me explain.

So, your strongest evidence as a Christian are the scientific arguments, along with the moral argument. Those would include (for starters) the following:

  1. kalam cosmological argument
  2. cosmic fine-tuning
  3. galactic and stellar habitability
  4. origin of life / DNA
  5. molecular machines / irreducible complexity
  6. the moral argument

The problem I am seeing today is that atheists are rejecting discussions about evidence because they think that all we are interested in is getting them to become Christians. Well, yes. I want you to become a Christian. But I know perfectly well what that entails – it entails a change of life priorities. Both of the women I spoke to are living with their boyfriends, and the kids in the Catholic school just want to have fun. None of them wants to believe in a God who will require self-denial, self-control, and self-sacrifice. Nobody wants God to be in that leader position in their lives. Christianity is 100% reversed from today’s me-first, fun-seeking, thrill-seeking, fear-of-missing-out travel spirit of the age.

So, how to answer all these late-game questions? The answer is simple. You don’t answer any late-game questions until the person you are talking with accounts for the widely-accepted data in your list. These are things that have got to be accepted before any discussion about minor issues like one angel vs two angels at the empty tomb can occur. When we discuss all the basic issues where the evidence is the strongest, then we can go on to discuss issues where the evidence is debatable, then finally, in the last bits before the end, we can discuss these other kinds of questions.

How to explain why this process must be followed to the person who asks specific questions about minor issues? Simple. You explain that your goal is not to get them to become a Christian right now. That you want to let them believe anything thing they want. That’s right. They can believe anything they want to believe. As long as what they believe is consistent with the evidence. And what I am going to do is give them the evidence, and then they can believe whatever they want – so long as it’s consistent with the evidence.

So, for example, I’m going to tell them 3 pieces of evidence for a cosmic beginning of the universe: the expanding universe (redshift), the cosmic microwave background radiation, and the light element abundances. That’s mainstream science that shows that the universe came into being out of nothing, a finite time in the past. And I will charge them not to believe in any religion that assumes that the universe has always been here. For example, Mormonism is ruled out, they believe in eternally existing matter. See how that works? Hey, Ms. Atheist. You can believe anything you want. As long as what you believe is consistent with the evidence. 

I think this approach of not letting them rush you to the end at the beginning is important for two reasons. First, we can get our foot in the door to talk about things that are interesting to everyone, in a non-stressed environment. Everyone can talk about evidence comfortably. Second, we show that we hold our beliefs because we are simply letting evidence set boundaries for us on what we are allowed to believe. We can’t believe not-Christianity, because not-Christianity is not consistent with the evidence. And you start with the most well-supported evidence, and eliminate worldviews that are falsified by the most well-supported evidence. Atheism actually gets falsified pretty quickly, because of the scientific evidence.

So, that’s my advice. Had a friend of mine named William try this out about a week ago. It went down like this:

William to me:

This guy I know messaged me and bragged for a while about how easy he can dismantle Christianity. He said: “present the gospel to me as you understand it. I’ll simply ask questions to demonstrate it is not worth your belief.”

WK to William:

First of all, he isn’t allowed to just sit there and poke holes in your case, he has to present a positive case for atheism. Second, don’t discuss Christianity with him at all until you first discuss the evidence for theism – start with the good scientific evidence.

And William wrote this to his friend:

The way I’m wired is that I process all competing theories and go with the best one. By doing a comparative analysis of worldviews I find that Christian theology easily explains the most about the world I find myself living in.

I’m pretty sure that a God of some sort exists because of the scientific evidence for the origin of the universe and the fine tuning in physics. From there I find it quite intuitive that if a God went through the trouble of creating and tuning a universe for life that this God likely has some sort of interest in it and has revealed Himself to humanity in some way.

From there I can look at the major world religions and compare them to see which one explains the past and the present the best. Christianity easily comes out on top.

And then a few days later, I got this from William:

I finally got the agnostic to tell me what he thinks about origin and fine tuning. When I started pointing out that his views were unscientific, he blew a basket, called me dishonest and told me he didn’t want to discuss anything further.

And that’s where you want to be. Cut off all discussions where the challenger tries to jump to the end and get you to debate the very last steps of your case. Present the strongest evidence for your core claims, and get him to account for this evidence within his own worldview. Lead the discussion with public, testable evidence. All warfare depends on picking the terrain, weapons and tactics that allow you to match your strength against your opponent’s weakness.

Men having a mid-life crisis are searching for meaning in all the wrong places

Two Air Force JTACs discuss mission parameters prior to calling in CAS
Two Air Force JTACs discuss mission parameters prior to calling in CAS

I can always count on my good friend Dina to be even more angry at feminists and feminism than I am – she has to deal with young, unmarried women behaving selfishly and irresponsibly every day, and sees the trouble they cause for others.

So when she sent me this article from the UK Telegraph, and told me that I needed to write about how men are going terribly wrong, I knew it was time to balance things out a little on this blog.

Here are the parts I want to comment on:

Something strange happens to men in middle age.

[…]Aches and pains used to disappear quickly, now they hang around for months. Hair no longer grows on the head, you can’t stop it growing out of your ears. You can’t sit down, stand up, or pick up any object without emitting an accompanying grunt. But it’s not the age, it’s the anxiety; those ‘dark nights of the soul’, staring at the ceiling, pondering the ultimate question of middle age: ‘Is that it?’

[…] Some take up the triathlon and wear unfeasibly tight Lycra. “I want to prove that I can still do it,” said a marathon running friend. “I’m fitter than guys half my age.” Some change their appearance. The jeans grow tighter than their lycra. A tattoo appears. Then there’s the sports car because they think that buying something will cure their sadness. But they end up just as unhappy, but at a higher speed.

[…]Studies show that in our forties and fifties levels of happiness and life satisfaction dip to their lowest levels psychological distress is at its height. Forty-five is the most common age for depression to be diagnosed. This is a complex situation with many factors, but in my many conversations with ‘men of a certain age’, I sensed an underlying lack of meaning and purpose, and a sense of having failed in some way.

Many of them had spent their life climbing the corporate ladder only to find out it was leaning against the wrong wall. At one event where I was speaking, I met a judge. He’d spent his life striving to reach that position, only to find that, when he got there, he felt as empty as ever. Another friend returned from a long career teaching overseas. He saw a TV advert featuring men admiring their DIY handiwork and saying, ‘I did that.’ He burst into tears: he felt there was nothing in his life of which he could say, ‘I did that.’ He was wrong. But it didn’t feel that way.

Men are wrong to think that they can produce meaning by achieving pointless worldly goals. Pointless worldly achievements don’t ward off old age, sickness and death. There is not some judging ceremony when you die where the person who has the most stuff, or who had the most sex, or who ran the most marathons, or who traveled to the most countries, wins anything. No man can really achieve objective meaning or purpose through material objects, pleasure, sex, triathlons, alcohol, drugs, sports, gambling, travel, or any kind of this-worldly achievement. The things you build in this world will stay in this world. If you want to build something that lasts outside this world when you die, then you need to get to work on finding out whether God exists, and what he expects from you. It is only by focusing your life on the bigger picture that you will achieve things that actually count.

So how to get a man thinking clearly about meaning and purpose?

First, you should have a serious conversation with him about his plans and goals, and get him to reflect on whether what he is trying to achieve is going to matter. Men like to think that they are living a good, meaningful, purposeful life. They need to be questioned about this. They get so distracted with the good feelings they have watching sports, playing golf, going fishing, home improvement, working out, etc. that they don’t think about the big picture. This article by William Lane Craig may prove useful (video of lecture). Sometimes, a man can decide that the big questions don’t matter at age 12, after he suffers some minor disappointment with God, and then never go back and re-evaluate until age 90. You need to point out to him how stupid it is to decide big questions as a teen, when he hasn’t uncovered any facts to would help him to draw accurate conclusions.

Second, men are often very impatient and dismissive of spiritual things, because they are very practical and evidential. Practical and evidential are good, and this is how they must be approached – they must be made aware of the areas of science, history and philosophy that touch on the big questions. I will never forget one of the engineers in my office asking me about the William Lane Craig vs Lawrence Krauss debate after I told him I blogged on it. This guy builds stuff, fixes cars, everything manly you can imagine. He asked me “did anyone win?” That’s what men care about. Your first goal in getting a man interested in deep questions is to show him how known facts arbitrate disputes, resulting in real winners and losers.

You cannot tell men the answers in advance, because they are explorers and adventurers. Men must be presented with alternatives, and left alone to explore and adjudicate winners and losers on their own, based on careful reasoning and evidence.

By the way, this MP3 file contains the testimony of one of my favorite 3 speakers, Dr. Walter Bradley – a mechanical engineering professor who reached the highest levels of his profession, and made a huge difference for Christ, speaking at dozens of university campuses. I have listened to this lecture dozens of times, and it changed my life. Really good thoughts about meaning and purpose in life.

Disclaimer

Now, as you all know, I do think men should study hard things and work hard jobs that they hate but that pay well, in order to provide for others. But there is a difference between getting your meaning and purpose in life from climbing a ladder at work, and getting your meaning and purpose in life in a relationship with God. The same thing goes for fast cars – I love them, I bought one the week after I started working full-time after graduating. Don’t confuse fast cars with the meaning and purpose you get from partnering to achieve results for your Boss.

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.