Saturday, September 23, 2017

A New Book that Demands a Verdict

If one McDowell was able to encourage Christians a generation ago with evidence for the truth of Christianity, simply imagine what two McDowell's could do!

Josh and his son, Sean, have completely revised and updated the hugely influential Evidence that Demands a Verdict that was first released in 1979. Josh wrote the original book after so many people kept asking him for his notes that he would use for his apologetics talks. I had my own copy of this book in the 80's as a young teenager, and I remember being astounded at the comprehensive information and level of detail that was available as a resource.

Fast forward to 2017. Josh's son, Sean, is a fully qualified professor and apologist in his own right, working now as Assistant Professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University in La Mirada, California. This father-and-son team came together to update this material for a new generation of Christians and seekers looking for evidence for the truth of Christianity.

Josh and Sean have accomplished their goal swimmingly by providing comprehensive evidence like it was their job. Actually, I think it was their job. They have a very full introduction that covers a lot of ground with the nature of what apologetics is, why it is important for the Church, and answering some objections and misconceptions that some will bring up.

Following this introduction, McDowell and McDowell offer a robust prologue which stands as an introduction to natural theology, that is, evidences from nature that point beyond the physical world to a Creator. It is here that Josh and Sean begin to target the philosophical idea of metaphysical naturalism, which is the reigning prejudice of our age, especially in the sciences. In simplified form, naturalism is the idea that all that exists is matter and energy operating according to natural law. Anything like a god or gods are denied to exist. They offer six evidences for the existence of God, including the origin of the universe, the fine tuning of the universe, the origin of life, the origin of consciousness, and the existence of free will and morality. These evidences then form the backdrop for the rest of the book since they offer good reason to think that something like the Christian God is reasonable. Given that it is entirely plausible that God does exist, we are now ready to explore the particular Christian evidences that take up the vast majority of Evidence.

Team McDowell has divided the book into four parts. Part I deals with the reliability of the Bible. Part II covers the evidence for Jesus, including his life, his unique claims and his resurrection. Part III offers evidence for the reliability of the Old Testament. Finally, Part IV answers skeptics and post-modernists with an exploration of what is truth and the possibility of miracles.

This book is a serious resource for all Christians. If you share your Christian convictions enough with others, someone is bound to ask you a question or to offer a challenge to Christianity. The only question is: will you answer those questions well or poorly? The updated Evidence that Demands a Verdict belongs on your shelf as a go-to in order to help you answer those questions well.

The verdict for this book? Buy it! (If you pre-order, you will be able to download and read two chapters now: "The Martyrdom of the Apostles" and "The Historical Existence of Jesus")

For more information, go to

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

When Disappointment Comes

I don't know if you've ever noticed something.

In Ephesians 3, Paul makes a well known declaration to God's power:
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (ESV; 3:20-21)
In a high and exalted prayer, Paul is clear that God is able to do anything beyond our wildest thoughts. We could do worse than to memorize and meditate on this truth regularly.

But notice this. In the very next verse (4:1), Paul, almost in passing, says, "I, therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called..."

Did you catch that? The very same apostle who is confident in a powerful God, is yet a prisoner for the Lord. Paul is still captive.

Why is he a prisoner if God can do anything? Certainly God could bring himself glory in other ways. Why does God's glory require Paul's captivity?

These questions are ultimately unanswerable by us, but please notice that Paul did not use his imprisonment to doubt God's power or care for his people. Quite the opposite. Paul rejoices in the Lord that he serves.

Further, in Colossians 1, Paul prays for the church in Colossae, and as part of that prayer in verse 11, Paul prays that they would be "strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy."

If God has all power, why do we need endurance? Why do we need patience? Because God's power is not to get us out of trouble, but to get us through it with joy.

Disappointment will come our way. Incomes will fall. Someone will die. Children will rebel. When these difficulties come, let's remember Paul's attitude. God's purpose is ultimately to make us like his son, Jesus (Romans 8:29).

Pray that God will use disappointment to make us like Jesus. That is what God's power is for.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Was Christianity Invented?

Many skeptics will say that most of the details about Jesus' life, particularly his miracles and resurrection, were added on later due to legend or crafted to make a viable religion out of their dead Messiah. But, ask yourselves, who was this new religion crafted for? Assuming for the moment that the resurrection was made up, the new Christians' message of a resurrected Jesus would not have appealed to Greeks or Romans. To them, our body was a cage, and the goal was for our souls to "fly away" (sound familiar - even some hymns have non-Christian influences...). No Greek or Roman would want a resurrection. For them, the body is crude and vulgar, and the soul craves freedom.

So, who's left? The Jews. Yet the idea of a crucified Messiah was appalling to the Jews. Their Messiah was a victorious ruler, not a dead-dog of a man hanging on a cross.

What, then, is the point of this new religion that focuses on a man come back to life? Why craft a new religion that makes no sense to or offends all of your potential converts? Oh, and preaching this new thing you just made up will get you beaten or killed by these people you've just upset. If you're going to make up a narrative about your Messiah, why that one?

No Jew would have made up a crucified Messiah, and no Greek or Roman would have wanted a resurrected one. 

Thus the best explanation for the birth of Christianity, rather than being an invention, is that this dead-dog Jesus actually got up again a few days later and appeared to his followers. Imagine the shock of seeing your Rabbi walking toward you a couple of days after you just saw him killed. That's the sort of thing the one doesn't forget.

The rise of Christianity must be explained in a way that makes sense of the historical realities.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

On Standing for Truth in the Public High School

I am a public high school physics teacher. I am also committed to following Christ and to the idea that his reign extends to all of life. Yet in our culture it is inappropriate for a public educator to proselytize or to advocate for one's own religion. How then do I stand for Christ while not being able freely to discuss him in the classroom?

Consider this conversation between me and a student:
Student: Where is room 235?
Teacher: Where would you like it to be?
Student: [look of confusion] I don't know...
Teacher: Well, culture tells us that we can make up our own truth. What true for you is not true for me. So, what is the truth here?
Student: Well, I guess whatever makes us happy?
Teacher: Great. So where would you like room 235 to be to make you happy?
Student: I just want to get to my meeting!
Teacher: Oh, so room 235 can't be just anywhere?
Student: I guess not.
Teacher: So, truth isn't just what we make it to be?
Student: Nooo...[again, the look of confusioin]
Teacher: Room 235 is just around the corner.
What was my point of this conversation that the student probably thought was pretty weird? It was simply to show that reality does not bend to our wishes, that the things that we think in our heads must match the world out there if they are to be true.

Nobody can possibly live consistently with the idea that truth is what we make it, no matter how many times we are told otherwise. Room 235 is where it is and not where I'd like it to be.

Before a person can accept the truth about Jesus Christ and his work of redemption for mankind, and person must first believe that the Christian account of reality is true. Before they can accept the Christian understanding of the world as true, they must first believe that truth is true. Francis Schaeffer used to talk about the notion of "pre-evangelism," that is, that before we can meaningfully discuss the gospel with someone, we first have to prepare the soil, so to speak. They have to be ready to hear truth, and if they are not ready, then we will not be communicating what they first need to hear.

So I look for opportunities in the classroom to show my students that truth is true. The world does not stoop to me; I must stoop to the world. In lots of little ways like this I am proclaiming truth to my students. Then, maybe down the road in God's sovereignty somebody else will come along to meaningfully share the gospel of Jesus Christ and that person will be ready to hear and consider it.

Something to think about.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Putting God Out of a Job?

In my interactions with members of our local freethought society, it is simply assumed that science has displaced God. He has become unnecessary because our knowledge of physics, chemistry, cosmology, and biology have grown immensely. Our gaps of knowledge are being filled in, and therefore there is no need for God.

By way of response, I came across  this quotation from physicist Luke Barnes, co-author of the wonderful book, A Fortunate Universe: Life in a Finely Tuned Cosmos. He speaks directly to this tendency on the part of atheists to assume that God retreats on the field of battle as scientific knowledge marches forward:

The relationship of God to the Universe is something like that of an author to a book. We won’t find J. K. Rowling in Hogwarts or Shakespeare in fair Verona. We can’t put the author out of a job by discovering a new character, or deciphering the plot, of finding the first page of the book, which reveals how the story started. This is not a hastily revised ‘modern’ God, retreating in the face of science. It predates the scientific revolution by a few thousand years, and for the most part was the worldview of the makers of the scientific revolution.
The Christian Philosopher of science and mathematician, John Lennox, makes a similar point in his book, God's Undertaker:
…understanding the mechanism by which a Ford car works is not in itself an argument for regarding Mr. Ford himself as non-existent. The existence of a mechanism is not in itself an argument for the non-existence of an agent who designed the mechanism. 
How silly would it be for a car mechanic to lift the hood and declare, "I don't see Henry Ford! He must not exist!" In the same way as our scientific knowledge progresses, we do not put God out of a job.

Christian theists do not hold to "god-of-the-gaps" theology that says because we do not understand something, therefore God did it. No serious Christian thinker has ever advocated this position. Rather, God is a necessary being who is the ground of all existence. This view of God has been dominant since Aristotle, who although was not a Christian, he understood the need for a different kind of being to ground all motion and change.

Ironically, even as atheists assert that they are the rational and educated ones, they operate with a view of God that historically no one has ever held. I have found this lack of interaction with serious Christian theism to be a hallmark of the thought of our local freethinkers, thus one of my goals for continuing to join them is to disrupt their echo chamber and to represent (as best I can) the stream of Christian philosophy that they have never interacted with.

Monday, August 18, 2014

You Can’t Live Like Truth Is Relative

Our culture tells us that truth doesn’t matter. Everything is relative.

That might be true for you, but not for me, they will tell you. Perception is reality is another common refrain. Find your truth within.

The problem with these sentiments is that no one can actually live this way. It is simply not possible.

For example, you might walk into your local bank to cash a check, and while there find out that some money is missing! Whereas your bank statement indicated that you had $450 in your account, your teller says, “Oh, we just send out those statements to make you feel good about yourself. We always add in some extra on paper so as not hurt anyone’s feelings. You only actually have $275.”

You expect the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, not just from banks, but from everyone in every walk of life. You expect truth from witnesses on the stand, your doctor, your financial planner, and your used-car salesman.

No wife wants to hear from her husband upon returning home late, “Whatever makes you happy – that’s where I was.”

We expect college transcripts to faithfully report our progress (well, at least we don’t want them to be worse!).

Congressman Jones says that those funds were not donated by a racist group. The road sign says that it’s only 20 more miles to Albuquerque. The instruction manual says to turn the handle three times and then pull.

In every area of your life, you expect truth-telling. You demand it. You wouldn’t put up with lies or deception from any professional person, business, governmental agency, or news story.

Truth is basic to life.

So why do we pretend that it is any different when it comes to religion and ethics?

Christians contend that Jesus of Nazareth rose bodily from the grave three days after having been killed. Well, is it true or isn’t it? If it is, that changes everything, doesn’t it? If it isn’t, then I no more would want to be a follower of Jesus than a follower of David Koresh.Well, ok, I guess Jesus was nicer.

The next time that somebody says to you that all truth is relative, simply ask them, “Would you say the same thing of your bank statements?”

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Review of A Reasonable Response

I respect greatly the work that Dr. Craig does in providing a defense of the Christian worldview, so when I learned that his new book, A Reasonable Response, was coming out, I jumped at the chance to read it and to provide a review of it.

A quick scan of the table of contents reveals a fairly comprehensive list of topics. There are six parts dealing with the following topics:
·         Questions on Knowing and Believing What is Real
·         Questions about God
·         Questions about Origins and the Meaning of Life
·         Questions about the Afterlife and Evil
·         Questions about Jesus Christ and Being His Disciple
·         Questions about Issues of Christian Practice

Craig and Gorra clearly have in mind a target audience who are Christians concerned about dealing with atheists and skeptics. They are speaking into contemporary Western culture that is dominated by philosophical materialism and skepticism. While appropriate for any reader, the audience best suited for A Reasonable Response includes those in a university environment, those in contact with university students, or those interested in broader philosophical debates relative to the Christian faith. It is this type of environment where more weighty intellectual challenges tend to arise about which a Christian defender would want a “reasonable” response to challenges.

The range of questions and topics in A Reasonable Response will be interesting and of value to any Christian. The responses written by Craig, however, are largely written for an above-average reading level. This is a benefit for the reader because it is like taking our brain to the gym for a little workout when we read. Craig unapologetically expects his readers to think (imagine that!) while engaging with the material presented. The authors will be like personal cognitive trainers to stretch you to become stronger intellectually. Having said this, however, I do not think this book is out of reach. Any reader will be able to absorb the ideas from the vast array of topics presented.

The format of the book is such that you do not have to read it sequentially from beginning to end. Because the authors compiled it in a Question-Answer format, you can simply jump to a topic that interests you. This format makes the book very handy, and even though the print version contains 432 pages (this review is based on the Kindle version), you don’t feel overwhelmed.

In his introduction Gorra declares that one of their goals for this book was to provide succinct answers to tough questions, enough to “chew on.” They want us doing apologetics, not just studying and endlessly discussing it and never letting them escape out into the wider world where people need Christ. Craig and Gorra desire that this book act as a go-to manual to look up questions and issues as they arise in conversation. In fact, as an example of the usefulness of this book, recently I was discussing with a co-worker the reasons that I hold for the existence of God using the Kalam Cosmological argument – one of Craig’s signature arguments. I didn’t think that I did such an effective job of explaining why the First Cause of the universe had to be personal, as opposed to an impersonal force. When I got home I looked in A Reasonable Response  to see if it dealt with this issue. Lo, and behold!  I spotted an entry entitled, “Must the Cause of the Universe Be Personal?” I have been since studying this chapter so that next time the issue comes up, I will own it!

You will be introduced to a fascinating concept advocated by Dr. Craig called molinism. This review is not the place to introduce it –  I’ll let Craig and Gorra do that. Suffice it to say that they will present you with a view of how God can sovereignly control the universe while at the same time giving his creatures libertarian free will. While I don’t hold to this view, molinism is a fruitful philosophical and theological concept that is definitely worth thinking about!

In conclusion, you will find this book to be a versatile and beneficial addition to your library shelves. With its wide range of topics aimed at an educated audience, there are very few common challenges for which you will be unprepared after having studied its pages. Craig and Gorra have done a service for the Church to give us a sword and a shield for taking our Christian convictions out into the world to make a difference for Christ.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.