Tag Archives: Apologetics

How pro-life apologetics helps strengthen your evangelism

I'm Scheming Unborn Baby, and I approve this study
I’m Scheming Unborn Baby, and I approve this message

From Scott Klusendorf’s Life Training Institute.

Excerpt:

Beyond the obvious obligation we have as thinking human beings to clarify the status, and defend the value, of innocent, unborn human life, engaging in the pro-life project is also a way to make the case for the truth of Christianity in general. It stands to reason that if the scientific, philosophical, and moral arguments we offer in defense of the humanity of the unborn also happen to align exactly with the biblical notion of what it means to be a human being made “in the image of God,” then the Bible might also have something to say about other things of importance.

This is a point Scott makes repeatedly but it was recently driven home in a very concrete way by, of all people, a hard core atheist in the most recent issue of Salvo magazine. A secular skeptic, law school professor, renowned blogger, and mocker of deluded “Godiots,” the “Raving Atheist” attended a blogger party where he serendipitously sat next to a Catholic blogger named Benjamin. As the “Raving Atheist” explains:

At one point the conversation turned to abortion, and I asked Benjamin’s opinion of the practice. I was stunned. Here was a kind, affable, and cogently reasonable human being who nonetheless believed that abortion was murder. To the limited extent I had previously considered the issue, I believed abortion to be completely acceptable, the mere disposal of a lump of cells, perhaps akin to clipping fingernails.

This unsettling exchange spurred me to further investigate the issue on Benjamin’s blog. I noticed that pro-choice Christians did not employ scientific or rational arguments but relied on a confused set of “spiritual” platitudes. More significantly, the pro-choice atheistic blogosphere also fell short in its analysis of abortion. The supposedly “reality-based” community either dismissed abortion as a “religious issue” or paradoxically claimed that pro-life principles were contrary to religious doctrine. Having formerly equated atheism with reason, I was slowly growing uncertain of the value of godlessness in the search for truth.

Though the “Raving Atheist” continued to rave, there was now a stone in his God-rejecting shoe, placed there by a reasoned defense of the pro-life view. He couldn’t disconnect himself from it and later admitted that the “selfless dedication [of pro-life advocates] to their cause moved [him] deeply.” Later, he met a woman named Ashli whose work in pregnancy care drew him to further consider the pro-life position. Soon thereafter, the “Raving Atheist” became, in part, a pro-life blogsite …

Click here to read the astonishing conclusion. Then come back here.

Back? Ok, so what did we learn from this? Well, the moral of this story is that it is very important for Christians to have a good understanding of moral issues like abortion and same-sex marriage so that they can talk about these issues based on what they know. When someone can stake out a moral position on these kinds of issues, using science and history and other hard evidence – not just the Bible – then it helps non-Christians to take us seriously as thinkers.

Unless we demonstrate the ability to reason out there in the real world – outside the church – then we are not going to be viewed as authoritative on any subject – especially on spiritual subjects. We really need to study up on other issues, and show that we care about the unborn (abortion issue) and children (same-sex marriage issue). We have to show that there is more to us than just doing what feels good. We have to show that we are smart and that we are willing to be unpopular in order to do the right thing. That we didn’t just inherit these views from our parents, or from our culture. That we have actually thought things through more than just reading the Bible, and that it makes a difference in how we view the world, and in how we live. We don’t want people to continue in their perception that Christians are just people who play follow-the-leader – we want to show them how we have worked through these issues on our own.

Ignorance is never a good idea when you are trying to do good – and you can’t know what is really good just by your feelings and intuitions. If you want to do good, you need to be 1) convincing and 2) effective. And that takes study. Don’t choose policies based on what makes you feel good and what sounds good to others. Push for effective policies – what actually does good – and then have your arguments and evidence ready to convince people, using evidence from authorities that they accept as non-Christians. If you have the will to study a little, you can be passionate and convincing. Non-Christians respect passion and knowledge. They don’t respect fideism and mysticism.

Scott Klusendorf is the author of the best introductory book on pro-life apologetics, entitled “The Case for Life“.

How can we get single men and husbands to be interested in church and ministry?

Church sucks, that's why men are bored there
Church is ineffective and impractical, and that’s why men are bored there

Consider this passage from William Lane Craig’s April 2013 newsletter, which made me very excited and happy. (H/T Triablogue)

Here it is:

One overwhelming impression of these engagements is the way in which the intellectual defense of Christian faith attracts men. Both at Texas A&M and again at Miami every single student who got up to ask a question was a guy! I wondered if the girls are just shy. But then I remembered a lengthy clip Jan and I watched of cast members of Downton Abbey doing a Q&A with an audience in New York. Almost every person who came to the microphone at that event was a woman! It wasn’t until late into the evening that a man finally asked a question, which was remarked by all the cast members. Why the difference between that session and the ones I experienced?—simply because the Downton Abbey program is highly relational, which is more appealing to women, whereas my talks were principally intellectually oriented, which is more appealing to men.

Churches have difficulty attracting men, and the church is becoming increasingly feminized. I believe that apologetics is a key to attracting large numbers of men (as well as women) to church and to Christ. By presenting rational arguments and historical evidences for the truth of the Gospel, by appealing to the mind as well as the heart, we can bring a great influx of men into the Kingdom. I’m so pleased that the church in Canada seems to be awakening to this challenge! I’m convinced that we have the opportunity to revolutionize Western Christianity by reclaiming our intellectual heritage.

Now, I hear a lot of complaints from women in the church and pastors in the church about men not being interested in going to church. I think that the problem is that church is hostile to men’s natures. Men thrive on conflict and competition. Men prefer strict rules and moral judgments. Men prefer to shame people who underperform, rather than coddle them. Men are practical and results focused. So how should the church accommodate the different nature that men have? Apologetics is one way to appeal to the male nature.

Let’s take a look at it.

Pastors: church as it is now is abrasive to men’s male nature

In a recent William Lane Craig podcast, at time 8:47, the WLC tells Kevin Harris about how he and his wife Jan asked about six of the young men who attend his “Defenders” apologetics class which morning service they attended: traditional or contemporary. ALL of the young men said that they attended neither service, because they go to church to learn something and the service has no educational value to them. The only attend the Defenders class. The apologetics class taught them things they could actually use – things they could actually use to think better, and fight better. This is my experience as well, although I am looking for a better church that does have some appeal to men. I might even have to move to find a decent church that has apologetics.

There is absolutely nothing going on in most churches that is valuable to a man. Men, by and large, only pray as a last resort, after we have done everything we can to solve the problem ourselves. We pay the most attention to the parts of the Bible that help us debate with non-Christians, or that give us things to do. We like to find evidence in the real world that connects with what the Bible is saying. We are interested in planning, execution and results. We are not very interested in feelings, singing, devotions, or bending the rules to make people doing bad things feel good. Now that’s not necessarily true for all men, but it is true for the majority of men.

And lest some people worry that fighting makes enemies, it doesn’t. Fighting with non-Christians has two effects: 1) they respect Christianity more, and 2) they want to be your friends and talk to you about spiritual things. Atheists see your standing up for what you believe in and living consistently with it indicative of authenticity. That is not the exception, Christian women and pastors – that is the rule. Atheists don’t think that standing up for what you believe in makes Christianity look fake, they think it makes Christianity look authentic. Well, at least the ones who are worth talking to think that.

Wives: don’t choose men who had no interest in advocating for Christianity before you married them

A related problem I see is the problem of wives marrying the wrong men then complaining that the men they freely chose to marry are not interested in church. This is actually the woman’s fault. Most women don’t think about what is best for God when they think about who to marry and have children with, they think about what makes them feel good. They don’t have any kind of plan where they match the man’s ability to the roles he will play as husband and father – they just pick who makes them feel good. This works about as well as buying and selling stocks based on which make you feel good, or choosing electronics and computers based on the color, or choosing a job or a church based on what the building looks like. The Bible lays out a few minimal requirements for a man: chastity, self-sacrificial love, providing for family, leading on moral and spiritual issues. Most young, unmarried women don’t value those things. If a woman picks a man who doesn’t make any demands on them, and who doesn’t judge them, then she cannot depend on him to show spiritual and moral leadership later on in the marriage. So don’t pick a man like that.

Wives: men respond to attention, recognition and approval from women

The reason that most husbands don’t engage in Christianity is because most wives (not my married friends of course) haven’t approached Christianity as something that is objectively true. Men don’t create illusions for themselves in order to feel better – they are more practical than that. Men only invest in things that they think are true, and where they can see that their practical efforts will make a difference. Men are turned off by the view that Christianity is just something that helps families and communities bond, and makes people feel comfort. We think that’s weakness, and we abhor weakness. Once men get the idea that a woman thinks of Christianity as feelings-fulfillment, we stop trying to achieve anything for the Kingdom of God. Men don’t want to be roped into Christianity if all it means is helping people get along and feel good. But they very much want to be roped into a demanding relationship with God where their efforts to achieve results count with God and gets them recognition and approval from their wives.

So how do wives learn to recognize and approve of what men do as Christians? Well, women need to learn apologetics and they need to practice debating with non-Christians. That will teach them to value conflict and competition, and to see how engagement and authenticity drives relationships with non-Christians forward. If women show an interest in objective truth, moral goodness and theological correctness, then men will become interested in these things, too. They will do it because men are addicted to pleasing women, and they want to help women more than anything in the world, second only to pleasing God. Men will enthusiastically engage in whatever will get them praise and recognition from women, and that means that women have to care about Christianity beyond their personal emotional experience of it and beyond their social cohesion experience of it. Initially, wives must be ready to praise and encourage their husbands, and then once the husbands get it, then they will be self-motivated and move out on their own. It will be self-sustaining.

When talking with a non-Christian, make truth – not behavior – the main issue

Bible study that hits the spot
Bible study that hits the spot

Pastor Matt posted about something that I think all Christian apologists believe, deep down. (H/T The Poached Egg)

He writes:

Typically, the church has defined loving one’s neighbor as in line with Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) and Christ’s teaching in passages such as Matthew 25:31-46, in which we are commanded to love the imprisoned, the homeless, the hungry, etc. as if they were Jesus himself. Of course all believers should do so whether by volunteering at a soup kitchen or donating money to ministries like World Help.

But there is more to loving one’s neighbor these days than caring for the poor, as important as that is.  Those of us who live in a first world western country now dwell in a post-Christian society.  Our neighbors are inundated with naturalism masquerading as good science and sound philosophy.  Non-Christians believe the faith is intellectually vacuous.

It shocks many people when those trained in apologetics point out that atheists cannot answer questions like, “How did the universe come into existence?” “Why is our planet so finely tuned for life despite all the odds against it?” “How did life begin?” “Why do humans have consciousness?” “How is there truth or right and wrong without God?” “Why did the disciples die horrible deaths as impoverished traveling peasants rather than deny the resurrection of Jesus?”, etc.

If we are to help bring our neighbors to saving faith, we must first destroy their false ideas of what Christianity is and is not.  That means we must preach the Gospel (2 Cor. 5:21), knock down specious views of the faith and present the truth of what we believe.

Apologetics is not just an intellectual exercise for nerds like me or a debate to be won on college campuses but an increasing tool in loving our neighbors.  For if they do not understand the faith, they will likely not come to faith and that is what the God we love wants and how we must show love to our neighbors.  So, let’s study not just to win arguments but to love others.

That reminds me of 2 Corinthians 10:3-5. Our job is to beat up on false ideas and speculations.

Pastor Matt’s point is critical, I think. Just stop and think for a minute about your non-believing co-workers. Do they know that the universe began to exist? Do they know that the initial conditions and the cosmological constants have to be finely tuned to support things like galaxies, stars, planets and elements heavier than hydrogen? Do they know how much information is in a protein, and how many proteins would be needed to make the first living cell? Do they know what it takes to make a planet that can support life? What facts from the gospels and the Pauline letters pass the tests for historicity? What is the best explanation of those minimal facts?

These are the facts that we share when we discuss spiritual things with people. They are not Christian facts, they are public, testable facts. And yet, almost no one in the culture who is not already a believer is curious to find out these things on their own. But without the evidence, how are they supposed to take the first step towards a relationship with God through Jesus Christ? It’s not possible. This is a propositional faith, and we know it’s true by evidence. To share the evidence with someone so they can decide is as loving as sharing the evidence about retirement planning, or the evidence about nutrition, or the evidence about fitness and exercise, or the evidence about career planning. When you love someone, you tell them the facts, and then they decide. Evangelism is the same thing.

Here’s something from a recent post by J. Warner Wallace, where he talks about doing apologetics with people who have not yet decided whether God exists or not.

The Undecided

In many ways, this group holds the most promise. People who are undecided usually fall into two categories. Some have never really given the issue much thought. They’re neither for nor against; they’ve simply been living unaware. You may be the first person to introduce them to the issues you are trying to share. If so, remember the importance of a first impression. What you say or do will have an impact on the work of those who follow you. The second group of “undecideds” are people who have given the issue some thought, but are just beginning to make their decision. For this group of people, your defense of Christianity may very well be the deciding factor. The responsibility you and I have with the undecided is daunting, but it’s a privilege to play a small part in their decision.

OK, so I want to make a point about this. So often, I see Christian parents and leaders trying to focus on changing people’s behaviors, and not by giving them evidence. Instead of trying to convince them about what’s true, they tell them Bible verses, or maybe tell them they are going to Hell. But given what Matt and J. Warner said, I don’t want us to be focused on changing outward behavior. I want us to be focused on showing people what is true and showing our work – how we arrived at these true beliefs. You are doing Christianity wrong if you focus on getting behaviors from people by shaming them, overpowering them or scaring them.

So in my case, I’m not trying to get non-Christians to act like Christians when they have no reasons to be one. I’m trying to get them to settle on true beliefs – so that each of them and God can shake hands and be reconciled, responding to his drawing them of their own free will. Then, they can decide how they are going to act. And how they act might be even better than what we had in mind for them when all we wanted was for them to quit swearing and eat their vegetables. The Christian life is bigger than just making people do what we want them to do.

A Harvard University student explains how evidence changed her mind about God

Harvard University student discovers apologetics
Harvard University student discovers apologetics

Here’s a must-read article  about the effectiveness of apologetics on college campuses in Christianity Today.

Excerpt:

I don’t know when I first became a skeptic. It must have been around age 4, when my mother found me arguing with another child at a birthday party: “But how do you know what the Bible says is true?” By age 11, my atheism was so widely known in my middle school that a Christian boy threatened to come to my house and “shoot all the atheists.” My Christian friends in high school avoided talking to me about religion because they anticipated that I would tear down their poorly constructed arguments. And I did.

As I set off in 2008 to begin my freshman year studying government at Harvard (whose motto is Veritas, “Truth”), I could never have expected the change that awaited me.

It was a brisk November when I met John Joseph Porter. Our conversations initially revolved around conservative politics, but soon gravitated toward religion. He wrote an essay for the Ichthus, Harvard’s Christian journal, defending God’s existence. I critiqued it. On campus, we’d argue into the wee hours; when apart, we’d take our arguments to e-mail. Never before had I met a Christian who could respond to my most basic philosophical questions: How does one understand the Bible’s contradictions? Could an omnipotent God make a stone he could not lift? What about the Euthyphro dilemma: Is something good because God declared it so, or does God merely identify the good? To someone like me, with no Christian background, resorting to an answer like “It takes faith” could only be intellectual cowardice. Joseph didn’t do that.

And he did something else: He prodded me on how inconsistent I was as an atheist who nonetheless believed in right and wrong as objective, universal categories. Defenseless, I decided to take a seminar on meta-ethics. After all, atheists had been developing ethical systems for 200-some years. In what I now see as providential, my atheist professor assigned a paper by C. S. Lewis that resolved the Euthyphro dilemma, declaring, “God is not merely good, but goodness; goodness is not merely divine, but God.”

Joseph also pushed me on the origins of the universe. I had always believed in the Big Bang. But I was blissfully unaware that the man who first proposed it, Georges Lemaître, was a Catholic priest. And I’d happily ignored the rabbit trail of a problem of what caused the Big Bang, and what caused that cause, and so on.

By Valentine’s Day, I began to believe in God. There was no intellectual shame in being a deist, after all, as I joined the respectable ranks of Thomas Jefferson and other Founding Fathers.

I wouldn’t stay a deist for long. A Catholic friend gave me J. Budziszewski’s book Ask Me Anything, which included the Christian teaching that “love is a commitment of the will to the true good of the other person.” This theme—of love as sacrifice for true good—struck me. The Cross no longer seemed a grotesque symbol of divine sadism, but a remarkable act of love. And Christianity began to look less strangely mythical and more cosmically beautiful.

Now, I’m going to get into a lot of trouble for saying this, but I think that if you are a Christian and you are in a secular university, then you really need to have put in the effort to study the areas of science, history and philosophy that are relevant to the Christian faith. This is regardless of your personal abilities or field of study. We must all make an effort regardless of how comfortable we are with things that are hard for us to learn.

Granted, most people today are not interested in truth, because we just have this cultural preoccupation with having fun and feeling good and doing whatever we want to do whenever we want to do it. Most atheists I’ve met are like that, but some are more honest, open-minded, and they just have never encountered any good reasons or evidence to think that God exists and that Jesus is anything other than a man. There are a lot of atheists like that who are just waiting to hear some decent evidence. Our job is to prepare for them and then engage them, if they are willing to be engaged.

I think that definition of love she cited – self-sacrifice for the true good of another person – is important. I don’t think that ordinary Christians like you or me spends time on apologetics because we “like” it. I know lots of Christians who are in tough, expensive academic programs trying to get the skills they need to defend truth in areas that matter. They do this because they know that there are people out there who are interested in truth, and who are willing to re-prioritize their lives if the truth is made clear to them. We need to be willing to serve God by doing hard things that work.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

Study by UCLA neuroscientist Jeffrey Schwartz falsifies materialist determinism

Apologetics and the progress of science
Apologetics and the progress of science

Here’s a summary of the research of UCLA professor Jeffrey Schwartz, authored by William Dembski.

Excerpt:

Schwartz provides a nonmaterialist interpretation of neuroscience and argues that this interpretation is more compelling than the standard materialist interpretation. He arrived at this position as a psychiatrist specializing in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). OCD sufferers recognize obsessive-compulsive thoughts and urges as separate from their intrinsic selves. For instance, after a few washings, the compulsive hand-washer realizes that his hands are clean and yet feels driven to keep washing them. It was reflection on this difference between the obvious truth (the hands are clean) and the irrational doubts (they might still be dirty) that prompted Schwartz to reassess the philosophical underpinnings of neuroscience.

From brain scans, Schwartz found that certain regions in the brain of OCD patients (the caudate nucleus in particular) exhibited abnormal patterns of activity. By itself this finding is consistent with a materialist view of mind (if, as materialism requires, the brain enables the mind, then abnormal patterns of brain activity are likely to be correlated with dysfunctional mental states). Nonetheless, having found abnormal patterns of brain activity, Schwartz then had OCD patients engage in intensive mental effort through what he called relabeling, reattributing, refocusing, and revaluing (the 4 Rs). In the case of compulsive hand-washing, this involved a patient acknowledging that his hands were in fact clean (relabeling); attributing anxieties and doubts about his hands being dirty to a misfunctioning brain (reattributing); directing his thoughts and actions away from handwashing and toward productive ends (refocusing); and, lastly, understanding at a deep level the senselessness of OCD messages (revaluing).

Schwartz documents not only that patients who undertook this therapy experienced considerable relief from OCD symptoms, but also that their brain scans indicated a lasting realignment of brain-activity patterns. Thus, without any intervention directly affecting their brains, OCD patients were able to reorganize their brains by intentionally modifying their thoughts and behaviors. The important point for Schwartz here is not simply that modified thoughts and behaviors permanently altered patterns of brain activity, but that such modifications resulted from, as he calls it, “mindful attention”-conscious and purposive thoughts or actions in which the agent adopts the stance of a detached observer.

So mind-brain interaction is not a one-way street. Everyone knows that you can alter your consciousness, beliefs, moods, sensations, etc. by changing your brain, e.g. – with drugs. But it turns out that you can also will to focus your thoughts on certain things in order to change your brain chemistry. So the causation is not just bottom-up, but also top-down.

Now mindfulness therapies – which are documented in the research papers published by Schwartz (like this one and this one and this one)- assume the existence of free will. Naturalists don’t like these scientific publications because naturalists don’t believe in free will, as the famous naturalist philosopher Alex Rosenberg explained in his debate with William Lane Craig.

This post from Uncommon Descent explains the naturalist conundrum.

Excerpt:

The issue, for Schwartz, turns on whether or not there is such a thing as free will. The assumption of free will is critical to mindfulness therapies for practical purposes.

Philosophies and religions have various opinions about ultimate free will. The therapist must ask, is my patient capable of carrying out a program that requires that he choose to focus his attention on A and not B? In practice, this turns out to be true for many patients, which makes the therapy useful. There is neuroscience evidence for brain reorganization as a result, showing that it is not merely an imagined effect.

Now, if someone wishes to claim, as many outspoken advocates of Darwinian evolution have, for example, that free will is impossible, the only thing that a mindfulness therapist can say is, go away. Either they are mistaken or the research results from mindfulness therapies are.

By the way, if you like this topic, and want a resource to show your friends, be sure and get a hold of the debate on mind vs. brain between Jeffrey M. Schwartz and Michael Shermer.