Tag Archive: Philosophy

Faith and Reason, Part 2

In my last post, I hopefully clarified the difference between biblical faith and the contemporary understanding of that word. Often, it seems to be put in opposition to reason, and it was my goal handshaketo show they are complimentary, not opposites.

What is Reason?

First, I want to make some important distinctions. We will be talking about argumentation here in our discussion of reason, and this word often has some bad associations because of the way we use it. When my kids are in the back seat of the van being nasty to one another with their words, I might finally yell back to them, “Stop with the arguing already!” But I want to use the concept of arguing in a different way here. So here’s what I don’t mean: arguing and reason is not quarreling, bickering, squabbling, or contradiction. It is also not judgmental, narrow-minded arrogance.

When we have a verbal interaction with someone, it usually takes on one of these four forms: [1]

  1. Discussion – A discussion is where people are sharing information and opinions with one another.
  2. Disagreement – Disagreements happen when people have conflicting opinions, but are not trying to change the other’s mind about it.
  3. Argument – People with differing opinions are now giving reasons to support their beliefs in order to persuade the other.
  4. Fight – Name-calling, insulting, and other nastiness happens in a fight; it is abusing the other person and not giving reasons at this point.

I love this classic Monty Python skit to illustrate:

Reason is a tool by which we evaluate observations to form conclusions about reality; it is working out what follows from what and evaluating the relationship between real and possible objects and other real and possible objects. This often involves others, challenging ideas and being challenged; this is argument, part of loving the Lord with all your mind (Mark 12:30). Arguing well is a good thing, as it helps us distinguish truth from error.

Is Faith Opposed to Reason?

If you say yes, then your view of the relationship between faith and reason looks something like this:

FvR2 FvR1

As one grows, the other shrinks: the more evidence and reason one has, the less need for faith, until it is eventually all squeezed out. Conversely, one with “perfect faith” then has no doubts and no need for logic and reason.

But, as I pointed out in my last post on faith, this isn’t a picture of biblical faith at all. Instead, it is more accurately illustrated this way:


In reality, the more evidence and reasons we have concerning the trustworthiness of a thing or proposition, the more trust or faith we place in it. This is biblical faith and the true model of the relationship between faith and reason.

In the next post, I will talk more logic and putting together your toolbox for clear and critical thinking.

Comments, questions, challenges? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

[1] As seen in The Fallacy Detective


Hebrews 11:1 – “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Hebrews 11:6 – “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

Are faith and reason opposed? Clearly God expects us to have faith, but what is that, anyway? Is Mark Twain correct in his definition that “faith is believing what you know ain’t so,” or is there something more to it? Are the new atheists correct in their assessment that faith belongs to religious zealots and reason belongs to sensible atheists?

What is Faith?

Faith is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted in spite of your changing moods.” – C.S. Lewis [1] CS-Lewis

Biblical faith is not blind, or in opposition to reason. Thus, “strong faith” is not upholding belief in spite of overwhelming evidence against belief.  Faith is different from belief.  Belief is mental assent to a set of propositions, which may not produce a significant change in the life of the believer.  Faith, in contrast, adds to belief trust, and involves an act of the will to commit to those beliefs in a way that does significantly impact the life of the believer.  Faith is similar in nature to the commitment of marriage: while dating, a man and woman may believe that the other partner would make a great spouse, but it is the wedding which demonstrates the commitment of the participants to change their lives for the belief.  There may not be complete certainty, but the weight of evidence is strong enough to responsibly bridge the gap.  As Christians, we have faith in the person of Jesus Christ, supported by reasonable propositions concerning his existence and miraculous works.

Reasonable Faith vs. Blind Faith vs. Certainty

(I heard this illustration many years ago from Richard Simmons III of The Center for Executive Leadership.)

Suppose I reach in my pocket and pull out something in my closed fist. What is in there? My father, who has known me all my life, says, “It’s a quarter.” I ask if he is willing to bet $100 that it is a quarter. Logically, it could be a quarter, but if he is willing to bet on it at that point, he is exercising blind faith.

Now, let’s say I tell him it is a 1921 silver dollar in good condition. If he believes and bets on that, it demonstrates reasonable faith, based on his belief in my trustworthiness.

Finally, I open my hand and give him the silver dollar so he can inspect it and verify all the information about it. At this point, he has certainty concerning his knowledge about it, and no faith is required.

Faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to.” Gailey on faith in Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Faith is what credulity becomes when it finally achieves escape velocity from the constraints of terrestrial discourse.” Sam Harris [2] samharris

Time for a New Word

All too often in our modern parlance, when people hear the word “faith,” they mentally attach extra words in front of it, such as “blind” and “leap of,” and so “faith” comes to be incorrectly defined as in the quote above from Miracle on 34th Street. When a word comes to mean something in the popular usage different from the concept that it originally conveyed, it is time to use a different word that is more accurate. In the same way that we don’t anymore use the words “gay” to mean “happy” or “gentleman” to mean “an upper-class landed aristocrat,” the word “faith” has come too much to mean belief in something in opposition to evidence and reason. Therefore, I more often want to use the word “trust” to express how Christians hold belief.

And not just Christians. I am referring to a tool we use all the time. In my last post, I explored a bit the depths of skepticism that a bit of reflection can raise, and showed how few things we have actual certainty about. This means that we must exercise “faith” (trust) about pretty much everything in our lives, to a greater or lesser degree. This includes Sam Harris and the other New Atheists!

Whether it’s life’s more philosophical questions – the reality of our conscious experience, why science works, the existence of other minds – or whether it’s just the mundane everyday realities of life – flying on a plane, undergoing a medical procedure, sipping a latte, using my credit card – every day I exercise faith in numerous little ways.” – Andy Bannister [3] andybannister

What About Child-Like Faith?

Matthew 18:1-4 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” 

As I have laid out in previous posts, the Bible models and expects a faith based on reason and evidences. In light of this clear teaching, any ambiguity of this Matthew 18 passage should be resolvable not as a guide on the definition of faith, but of the commitment based on that faith. After all, children place trust on the reasons and evidence they have available, just as adults do. Their faith is no more blind than anyone else’s. No, what is being instructed here is not blind faith, but a fearless and confident trust that our justified beliefs are truths that should be acted upon.

Next up, I’ll define reason and describe how we use it to arrive at truth.

Comments, questions, challenges? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

(All Scripture in this post is from the ESV translation)

[1] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Touchstone, 1996), 125.

[2] Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2004), 65.

[3] Andy Bannister, The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist: Or The Dreadful Consequences of Bad Arguments (Oxford: Monarch Books, 2015), 196.


Can Truth Be Known?

How do you know what you think you know? Can you have 100% certainty about anything in life? Are you sure that the world around you exists as you perceive it?

Skepticism and The Matrix

These are all questions that come to mind as a result of watching the 1999 film The Matrix. If you are one of the three people left who hasn’t watched this by now, let me sum up for you the plot relevant to this post. A young man who goes by the online pseudonym “Neo” begins to see clues that the life he lives and the things he sees and experiences may not be what he thinks: that there is a world beneath the world. A group who seeks out those with this dawning perception contacts him and offers him a way out into the “real” reality. Neo discovers that he and the majority of humanity has been enslaved by machine overlords and plugged into the power grid to keep the robots charged up. In order to keep humanity docile, the machines plug into the brains of the human batteries and feed a “virtual reality” scenario in their consciousness in which they think they are living their lives in turn-of-the-millennium earth. Adventure and hijinks ensue.

This concept, brought engagingly to the screen in 1999, is credited to René Descartes in the 17th century. He conceived it as a thought experiment to probe the depths of skepticism, to figure out just what sort of things one could be certain about. In Descartes’ model, it is not robots and a sophisticated virtual reality program, but an evil genie casting a spell of deception on the skeptic, producing for the subject an experience of false reality. Descartes realized that there was no way to know for sure that this wasn’t the case. This led to a regress of skepticism in which he landed on the one thing he could be certain about: “Cogito ergo sum,” or, “I think, therefore I am.” In other words, I may not have certainty that I am not being deceived in what I perceive, but I can be sure of one thing – that there is a “me” that may be deceived. “I doubt, therefore I know there is at least a doubter.” 

Living Life

So what do we do with this skepticism? It doesn’t seem to leave us much room to maneuver with confidence, does it? It turns out that this angst, while interesting to recognize and a good exercise for ordering one’s beliefs and epistemology, isn’t as crippling as it may seem on first understanding. Granted that we don’t have complete certainty about everything we think we know in life, we still make life-altering decisions on a regular basis. How can we responsibly do this without 100% certainty about the particular issue? Well, because of Descartes’ skepticism exercise, we understand that there is only one thing we can be sure about, that “I” exist. Yet we are forced in life to make decisions, and so we do so with confidence by presuming our sense impressions are more or less reliable. This presumption is justified in the absence of a valid defeater. In other words, unless I have good reason to doubt my sense impressions, I am rational in believing the evidence of my senses and drawing conclusions with reason and philosophy. So we gather data, process potential defeaters, and assign probabilities (not necessarily explicitly) to truth claims relating to our decisions (“Biblical Christianity properly reflects reality,” or “Nissans are generally more reliable that Fords,” or “I should eat at Moe’s today instead of Krystal,” etc.), and act on those decisions. Does objective truth exist? Yes! [1] Can we be completely certain that we know truth in these or any decisions? No, but we can know it well enough to live life with confidence.

That’s Just Your Opinion!

So we all have to make our own decisions, appraising the situations and associated truth claims. Does that mean anything goes? After all, at the end of the day, isn’t it just your opinion? Who can say that you have knowledge of the truth in the matter? As we saw in an earlier post, knowledge requires belief. Belief requires opinions, but not all opinions are equal. “Who can say” is the one with the best reasoning for their opinions. (There is a great deal more that should be said about the effects of sin on mankind’s ability to reason and form knowledge, but as I am laying a foundation of justification for reason and argumentation for the Christian case-maker, I’m going to move right on by this point.)

“But wait,” you may say. “What’s the role of faith, then, and its interaction with reason? Aren’t they opposed to one another?” I’ll take that up in my next post!

Comments, questions? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

[1] If you doubt the existence of objective truth, consider that the negation “Objective truths do not exist,” is itself a statement purporting to declare an objective truth, and so refutes itself. Thus, objective truths do exist.

In my last post, I described the influencers that contribute to the beliefs that people hold, categorizing them as sociological, psychological, religious, and philosophical, and showing that go-away-1544609members of the first three categories were insufficient of themselves to provide adequate basis of belief. Only when we begin with a properly functioning mind can we correctly appraise truth claims presented by the society, psychology, and religion.

It is also worth noting three categories of reasons why people will “SHUN” or reject a truth claim, according to J. Warner Wallace [1]:

A. RaSHUNal – Rational reasons are a request for more evidence to justify a truth claim. It is in this aspect which Christian case-making may be most useful.

B. EmoSHUNal – A truth claim may be resisted due to emotional hurts in the past or present related to the claim. As concerns Christianity, the resistant person may have been hurt by a pastor, another Christian, or (seemingly) God Himself. Helping this person will require patient love and friendship, pastoral care, and counseling. This is generally not the situation for a formal argument, although sometimes rational objections may be offered as a smokescreen to hide the true hurt.

C. VoliSHUNal – Volitional objections to a truth claim amount to a declaration that “I don’t care if it can be shown to be true, I’m not changing my life for your claim.” As relating to Christian claims, again, making a good case will not make much headway, as their will is set against it. Although they will often present rational objections as well, the smokescreen nature of their objections become apparent if a couple of exploratory questions are asked: “If I were able to answer your objections to [God’s existence, reliability of the Bible, historicity of Christ’s miracles, etc.], would you become a Christian?” or “What is your standard of proof? What evidence would you require to convince you of the truth of Christianity?” The answers to these questions frequently reveal the volitional nature of their resistance to Christianity. In this situation, the softening of their hearts by the Holy Spirit is required, and your steady and virtuous friendship with them may provide you an opportunity to answer honest questions about God that may be forthcoming.

In almost all cases, it is my belief that the normal use of apologetics by the Christian will be done in the context of a relationship with the other person. Theodore Roosevelt is attributed with the saying, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” and I agree. You aren’t making friends simply as an emotional wedge to proselytize; I’m talking about genuine and caring friendships in which the other person then becomes open to finding out more about that which is important to you and the reasons you hold for your beliefs.

1 Peter 3:15but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect

Form friendships, and be ready!

Next post will be concerning how truth is known. I hope you’ll join me!

Comments, questions? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

[1] J. Warner Wallace, “Why Some People Simply Will Not Be Convinced,” Cold Case Christianity, August 16, 2013, accessed October 8, 2013, http://coldcasechristianity.com/2013/why-some-people-simply-will-not-be-convinced/.

“People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive.” – Blaise Pascal

As part of my recent series of posts concerning truth and knowledge, I’d like to turn today towards the question of what sort of influences on people form beliefs and consider the adequacy of these influencers to deliver truth on their own.

Why Do People Believe What They Believe?

In the book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (1), the authors describe a seminar in which the attendees were asked for reasons why people believe the things they do. Many answers were given, and the speaker wrote them onto a whiteboard. Some of these answers included things like parents, friends, society, and culture. Others offered reasons of comfort, peace of mind, meaning, purpose, hope, and identity. Others still proposed that beliefs were often formed from teachings of Scriptures or holy books, pastors, priests, gurus, rabbis, imams and other religious leaders, and their respective church organizations. Finally the speaker himself added a few of his own to the end. These reasons were then organized into categories and labelled on the whiteboard, something like this:

Sociological Psychological Religious Philosophical





Peace of Mind





Scripture/holy book









Starting, then, from left to right, the speaker asked, Is each individual category and its contents was adequate by itself to provide enough justification on its own for belief? Read through the categories and items again yourself and think about your own answer. It seems to me that each of the categories, except the last one, is insufficient to the task. Greg Koukl summarizes the situation this way in his excellent book Tactics:

The Bible is first in terms of authority, but…we cannot grasp the authoritative teaching of God’s word unless we use our minds properly.  Therefore the mind, not the Bible, is the very first line of defense God has given us against error. (2)

So what exactly is meant by these items in the category of “Philosophical Reasons?” Logical consistency means that the beliefs one holds do not contradict one another. Internal coherence describes a harmonious relationship between the other beliefs in which each are carefully considered and fit together in a reasonable or natural way. Completeness refers to the ability of one’s set of beliefs to best explain the collection of data and evidence about the particular issue being considered. These three tests for truth have the best hope of delivering truth when applied to the claims made by the other three categories. Working in tandem with good philosophy, we may approach truth in the offerings of society, psychology, and religion.

Evaluating Ideas

Ravi Zacharias outlines three levels of philosophy for evaluating ideas (3), and I think they are correct:

  1. Formal Philosophy – This involves the use of logic and critical thinking in analysis of arguments and evidence presented for a point of view.
  2. Culture and the Arts – Truths discovered through philosophy can often be well illustrated through movies, music, and metaphor.
  3. Prescription – Laws and parental household rules are examples of prescription. This is the application of these ideas for oneself and legislation for others.

As an example, you may be familiar with the Parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant, which is often used to make the intended point that each expression of religion is really a discovery or worship of the same god, and that man’s finite nature and abilities lead us to believe we are serving different gods, when in reality each religion is merely a facet of the one god. Those who present this to persuade others of this view, usually offer it as a full argument (omitting step 1), but it is only an illustration (step 2) of an absent argument. They then move to step 3 and try to make the application that no one can know the truth about what or who god is, and so we should not claim that we are right and others are wrong (this could be used about truth in general as well, not just religious truth). Now, they may be right about these applications (I don’t think they are), but I hope you can see that without an actual argumentation, all we have is a possible explanation, but not necessarily a reasonable one.

By the way, here’s a great response to the Blind Men parable by Alan Shlemon of Stand To Reason.

In my next post, I will be talking about reasons people resist belief. I hope you will join me!

Comments, questions? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!


1 Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), 51-54.

2 Gregory Koukl, Tactics (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 32.

3 Ravi Zacharias and Norman Geisler, eds., Is Your Church Ready (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 33.

What is Truth? Part 2

In my last post, I explained a bit about the nature of truth, and then investigated some of the distortions of truth. Today, I want to go to the next step and discuss the way we apprehend truth, ioana-1435161answering the question, “What is knowledge?

Knowledge is most commonly defined as Justified True Belief (or the JTB model), and each one of these words represent a crucial component of knowledge. Let’s consider each in turn, in reverse order:


Belief is required for knowledge. It would be exceedingly strange if I made the statement, “I know that it is snowing outside, but I don’t believe it.” Does it make any sense to claim to have knowledge of something that we don’t believe? (We’ll assume that by “I don’t believe it” I’m not just meaning that I’m surprised about it.)


Truth is required for knowledge. Again, it would be very odd for me to say, “I know it’s snowing outside, but it’s not true that it’s raining outside.” Can I have knowledge that something is happening when it is not truly happening? I think we’ll have to agree not.


Justification is required for knowledge. Consider the situation in which I said, “It is raining outside,” and I believe it, and it happens to be true, but it was just a lucky guess. Perhaps I had been inside all day away from windows or any other external clues concerning the weather. Can I truly claim to have knowledge? No, not without justification.

Justification concerns reasons and evidence that give confidence that our answers are not mere guesses or dumb luck, but actual knowledge. It’s not “I hope it’s true” or “I think that it’s true,” but “I know that it’s true.” This is an important part of Christian evangelism, as demonstrated by author Christian Smith in his book Soul Searching in which he reports that students who grew up in Christianity who had since abandoned belief said they did so because of “intellectual skepticism and doubt.” These students had beliefs, and they were true, but they had no justification for those beliefs. They needed to know why they believe, not just what.

Knowledge is essential for spiritual transformation. Consider Romans 12:2 – “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” We need to be able to have knowledge of the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God.

Apologetics can provide justification, which turns true belief into confident knowledge. This also helps to integrate spiritual beliefs into the rest of one’s life, as opposed to compartmentalizing “religious matters” apart from “mundane matters,” as is encouraged by modern culture. This daily integration will help provide successful navigation of and interaction with reality.

In the next post, we will talk about why people believe the things that they believe.

Comments, questions? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

(All Scripture in this post is from the ESV translation)


“…for this reason I have been born, and for this reason I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.” – Jesus, John 18:37cthe-truth-shall-make-you-free-1201069

“Follow truth, wherever it may lead.” – Thomas Jefferson (attrib.)

To establish the foundations of a reasonable trust in Christianity, we will start at the bottom of the study structure I outlined in my last post, and begin by talking about the nature and existence of truth. Although when in conversation with someone about the rationality of our beliefs it will not usually be required that you justify your understanding of truth, at times it will come up, and having thought through your foundational beliefs will serve you well in your defense. No Christian should fear fully investigating and seeking out truth, since, as Augustine puts it, “let every good and true Christian understand that wherever truth may be found, it belongs to his Master.” Establishing and understanding the existence and definition of truth is also needed for following arguments to build upon.

Correspondence Theory of Truth

So what is truth? According to the correspondence theory of truth, it is an accurate description of reality; a proposition is true if and only if it corresponds to the way things actually are. This is really quite intuitive. “Jonathan Wood owns a cherry red Ferrari” is true if and only if I actually own a cherry red Ferrari (I don’t, more’s the pity). This theory seeks to explain the conditions under which a proposition would be true, not how or if we can know the truth value of that proposition. “There is a hot pink golf ball on the planet Pluto” has a truth value of true or false, even if it is impossible for anyone to know that truth value.[1]

This illustrates the meaning and difference between two important philosophical terms pertaining to truth and knowledge which we will come back to frequently. Ontology relates to existence or being, while epistemology relates to how we attain and justify knowledge. These are important to understand as different, as it is not uncommon to mistakenly think that because one may not know the truth value of a particular sentence, it therefore has no truth value.

Attacks on Truth – Tolerance and Pluralism

The modern usage of “tolerance” is nearly useless; it is used now to mean that one should not indicate that another person is wrong about their beliefs.  If a moral or philosophical rule cannot meet its own standards, there is a problem. This new definition of tolerance self-destructs if applied to itself: questioning if this is itself a correct belief, or if a person who rejects this kind of tolerance should be tolerated.  No, tolerance only applies when there is a disagreement: disagreement is required.  Without a disagreement, there is nothing to tolerate.  Therefore, a proper view of tolerance should be applied to people, not ideas.  People are tolerated when they disagree with others, but no idea is so sacrosanct that it should be immune from evaluation and critique.

Concerning “religious pluralism,” if in using this concept one refers to the right to choose one’s religion without coercion, this is a good thing.  However, in today’s culture, the term has come to mean much the same as “tolerance” in that one ought not make exclusive truth claims about religious beliefs.  It fails in the same way that the redefinition of “tolerance” fails: it decries exclusivism in religious beliefs, but is itself an exclusive belief about religion, namely that only inclusive religious beliefs are acceptable.

Moreover, it should be clear that even if one is to accept this view of religious tolerance and pluralism, it cannot survive more than the most superficial and patronizing treatment of religious beliefs.  One does not have to look far to see that almost all the most important core beliefs of the world religions are in conflict with most other religions’ views.  As examples, regarding the concept of God, is God personal, impersonal, monotheistic, polytheistic, dualistic?  Is mankind part of creation but different in kind, an evolved ape, an illusion along with the rest of “reality”?  What about afterlife, does man cease to exist on death, go to heaven or hell, merge with the impersonal spirit force, or reincarnate?[2]  All of these views could be wrong, but they cannot all be right.  We must investigate the truth of which, if any, of the world’s religious views (including atheism) is correct.

Next time, we’ll investigate the question, What is knowledge?

Comments, questions? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

(All Scripture in this post is from the ESV translation)

[1] Cowan, Steven B., and James S. Spiegel.  The Love of Wisdom. (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2009), 36.

[2] Dean C. Halverson, ed., The Compact Guide to World Religions (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1996), 15.

Having previously given several examples of Jesus’ and Paul’s use of persuasion and careful reasoning approaches to evangelism, let me now show you how God, through His inspired authors,studying-2-1475294 has given us the commission to each be careful and considered Christian case-makers.

Let me start by reminding you of Paul’s instruction to the church in 2 Corinthians 10:5

We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.

Through careful reasoning and persuasion we are to destroy the arguments raised against the knowledge of God, not through empty rhetoric, intimidating personality, abusive use of Scripture, or threat of force.

Over in Ephesians 4:11-13, Paul writes concerning the Christian’s gifts and design:

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. [NASB, emphasis mine]

Does the thought of evangelism make your palms sweat? Relax, that may not be your gifting. Paul says that some, not all, received the gifts of being apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. However, no such qualifiers are given in 1 Peter 3:15

But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.

This command is not issued to “some” of the believers, but seems to have the expectation that all believers should be ready to make a persuasive defense (apologia) of their faith. God expects all Christians to engage in apologetic study; this should not be simply a niche, academics club within the church, or a peripheral topic relegated to a specialist teacher or occasional special guest lecturer, but a discipline in which all Christians ought to apply themselves. As J. Warner Wallace puts it, “Christianity does not need another million-dollar apologist, we need a million one-dollar apologists.” We need people studying, getting into the game, engaging and improving their interaction skills as they do so.

Move down towards the end of the New Testament into the book of Jude, in which we will find this verse in Jude 1:3

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.

We are to stand up for and contend for the faith! Not just as “true for me,” or a private experiential and subjective faith, but as a public, objectively true reflection of reality. Repeatedly we are called to a convinced and reasonable trust in Christ:

1 Thessalonians 5:19-21 – Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.

1 John 4:1 – Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.

Romans 14:5b…Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.

2 Timothy 3:14 – But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it.

You are probably familiar with the passage in Matthew 5:13-16 in which Jesus tells us to be salt and light in the world:

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

I believe that these verses instruct us to provide cultural correctives towards Biblical truth and morality as it goes astray, and do so by confronting ideas and arguments. If Christianity truly reflects reality as it is, even apparent contradictions between it and contemporary thought can be shown to be faulty. We need to approach each situation with care, tact, and discernment, using the right tool for the job at hand; use “gentleness and respect,” as instructed in 1 Peter 3:15 above. This tactical approach is summarized in Colossians 4:5-6:

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

In the next post, I will give you some practical reasons why you as a Christian should study apologetics (if the previous posts haven’t yet convinced you!).

Comments, questions, challenges? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

(All Scripture in this post is from the ESV translation)

As you know if you’ve been reading along, I’ve been attempting to persuade the Christian who reads this that the Bible expects us to be able to make a good case for what we believe as corinth-greece-1212506-1920x1440Christians. Most recently, I have been working on showing how the Bible models the use of apologetics; in The Biblical Model, Part 2, I described how Jesus used careful logic and philosophy to show the truth of His claims. Today in this post, I want to lay out for you the way Paul used and instructed the church in apologetics.

Let’s start in Philippians 1:16, in which Paul is writing to the church in Philippi. In this section of his letter, he is talking to them about his imprisonment, and how he is in this circumstance in order to provide “a defense of the gospel.” The word “defense” as used here is the Greek word apologia, which you will remember refers to making a case as in a court of law, and is where we get the word “apologetics”.

Since Paul considered himself a Christian case-maker, so let’s examine one example of his use of philosophy in making his case. As a Christian missionary, Paul concerned himself very much with proclaiming the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus as actual events that took place. Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 15:17-20:

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

In this passage, Paul takes a big risk, putting his finger on an area where those who were hostile to Christianity could show it to be false. He hinges the entire belief system on the resurrection of Jesus: if He did not, in fact, come alive again after his death, Paul says that Christianity is a sham and that we as Christians are living a delusion. This sort of falsifiability clause strikes me as quite intellectually honest. If he was making this all up or otherwise knew this was false, there would be no reason for him to point out the way in which Christians, and Paul himself, could be shown to be fools. There certainly were plenty of people, then and now, eager to do just that. So by showing how to falsify Christianity, namely by producing the dead body of Christ, Paul provides another unique stamp on Christianity among religions, placing it in the realm of the empirical and historical, where it belongs.

The example above in 1 Corinthians is one specific example, but it isn’t the only one. Throughout the book of Acts, we have accounts of Paul reasoning and persuading wherever he went, finding common ground and building from what his audience accepted as authoritative. Several examples of this can be found all through Acts 17:

Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.”And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.

10 The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. 11 Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. 12 Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men. 13 But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was proclaimed by Paul at Berea also, they came there too, agitating and stirring up the crowds.14 Then the brothers immediately sent Paul off on his way to the sea, but Silas and Timothy remained there. 15 Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens, and after receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, they departed.

16 Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there.18 Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. 19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.

22 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for

“‘In him we live and move and have our being’;

as even some of your own poets have said,

“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’

29 Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” 33 So Paul went out from their midst. 34 But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.

This is quite a bit longer of a passage than I usually quote, but there are so many relevant things in this chapter that I want to draw your attention to, so I have bold faced the verses of note. To elaborate, notice in verse 2 how Paul reasoned from the Scriptures with the Jews. In verse 17, Paul is reported to have reasoned in the synagogue and in the marketplace, every day. And in verses 19-34, Paul reasons using the philosophical wisdom of the day among the assemblage of the wise in the Areopagus.

Paul’s method is the heart of cultural apologetics: knowing your discussion partner and what they consider to be authoritative, be it the scriptures, science, philosophy, or something else, and building on that foundation to show the truth of Christianity and the satisfying answers that Christianity offers.

Here is Paul’s description of the job of the Christian case-maker in 2 Corinthians 10:5

We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.

How does one destroy arguments? Not through raised voices, brainwashing, or even hurling Bible verses, but through better arguments.

So, if the model of Christ and the apostle Paul isn’t enough to convince, in the next post I intend to point out the specific commands in the Bible instructing us as Christians to be case-makers.

Comments, questions, challenges? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

(All Scripture in this post is from the ESV translation)

stained-glass-2-1257741-1279x1705In my last post, I spent some time showing the biblical examples of how Jesus operated as an evidentialist in his ministry. He never called people to blind faith, but gave good reasons to believe he is who he said he was: the Messiah and the son of God. This time, I’d like to examine some more Bible passages in which Jesus interacted with questioners and demonstrated the sharpness of his mind and the logic and philosophy with which he answered them. Much of this material is paraphrased from Douglas Groothuis’ book On Jesus.

Jesus the Philosopher and Logician

To begin with, let’s look at Matthew 12:22-28 in which Jesus is challenged by Pharisees upon driving out a demon from and healing a blind and mute man:

Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

In this passage, Jesus uses the philosophical tool called reductio ad absurdum, sometimes colloquially referred to as “taking the roof off.” A point of view is taken seriously for the sake of argument and then shown how, taken to its logical conclusion, produces something ridiculous. When this happens, it is a signal that there is a problem with one or more of the argument’s supporting premises.

Another example of Jesus’ sophisticated ability to apply logic is in Mark 2:5-12. This is the account of Jesus’ healing of the paralytic who was lowered in through the roof by his friends.

And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus,perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

Let me lay out the deductive argument that Jesus makes here:

  1. If Jesus can perform miracles, then His claim to be the Son of God who can forgive sins is true.
  2. Jesus can perform miracles (healing of the paralyzed man)
  3. Therefore, Jesus is the Son of God who can forgive sins.

Finally, let’s read the account below from Luke 20:27-40 in which the Sadducees attempt to trap Jesus concerning marriage relationships of believers in the afterlife:

There came to him some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, having a wife but no children, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife, and died without children. And the second and the third took her, and likewise all seven left no children and died. Afterward the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife.”

And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.” Then some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” For they no longer dared to ask him any question.

There are actually two philosophically very interesting things going on. In the first part, the Sadducees are trying to show that Jesus has committed a logical fallacy (or error in thinking) by applying reductio ad absurdum to Jesus’ teachings, saying that their hypothetical but potentially real situation would create a ridiculous situation in the afterlife. However, Jesus responds by showing the Sadducees understanding of His teachings is flawed. Jesus exposes their argument as being itself fallacious, being a false dichotomy, which is when two options are presented as the entire selection of options available, when there are actually one or more additional options not mentioned.

So we should be able to see from this post and the last that Jesus had a well-developed mind and expected His followers not to be dumb, blind sheep, but to follow Him because of the strength of evidence and in his living example of a sharp thinker.

Next time, I’ll show you how the apostle Paul modeled for us the use of reason, philosophy, and apologetics in his evangelistic work.

Comments, questions, challenges? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

(All Scripture in this post is from the ESV translation)