This is Apologetics: an Argument from Science

What is apologetics?

Is Christian faith the enemy of science? This is a common objection to biblical Christianity, but is there any weight to it?

If Christianity’s teaching about man and nature is true, then our senses are designed by our Creator to correspond to the world around us, and scientific inquiry is possible. If not, then there is no corresponding design and we have no reason to trust our sensory intake, and therefore no reason to trust in science.

Christian faith is not the enemy of science. On the contrary, science actually needs the Christian message to be true for its own survival. If you want to believe in science, you must presuppose the Christian faith. Yet the Christian faith doesn’t end with the creation narrative in Genesis. It is revealed in 66 books (together called the Bible) with one central message. And the urgent call of the Christian faith is this:

“…having overlooked the times of ignorance, God now commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has set a day when he is going to judge the world in righteousness by the man he has appointed. He has provided proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead” (Paul the Apostle, Acts 17:30-31).

That judge, and the only Savior and Lord, is Jesus. By believing in science but rejecting Jesus, you are actually sinning against the Creator who gave you life–and a lifetime of sinning against God earns the “wages” of an eternity of death. The Creator’s gift for sinners, however, is that he sent his into the world he created, to take the death his people had earned in their place.

Science is an incredible gift from God, yet it is a gift that points beyond itself to the God revealed in the Bible. We have all sinned against him, and we all must get to the point where we turn from our sin and trust ourselves to his Son. Repent and trust in him today, and your Creator will give you new life that lasts forever.

^This is apologetics.

Further study:

Why Does God Allow the Devil to Live? (and a Couple Other Good Questions)

A friend of mine posted these questions, which her children had asked her, on Facebook today.  They were such good questions, and they struck me as the kind of questions people are asking at every age–certainly not just in childhood. I humbly submitted my response (which were written for kids, mind you), and I share that now with you.

The questions:

  • Why did God just not send Satan to death?
  • Why didn’t God just restart the world?
  • God knew that Satan was going to keep doing bad stuff so why didn’t He just put him in a cage or something?
  • Why did God create Satan if He knew he’d do bad things?

My response:

The Bible answers these questions, but not always exactly in the way we would like! There are three perspectives the Bible offers to the question.

First, God is God, and His ways are not our ways. We know He is good, but He is also WAY smarter than we are (obviously! He’s GOD!). Romans 9:20 says “But who are you, a mere man, to talk back to God?” In other words, at some point we just have to trust Him, that He knows what He’s doing!

Second, God is so GOOD, that He has a plan to make everything work out for good. He has already planned it out ahead of time. He has even planned it so that, when bad people or spirits (like the devil) choose to do evil things, God makes those bad things work out for good in the end. That’s pretty amazing, right? Romans 8:28 says that, “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” In Genesis 50:20, Joseph tells his brothers (who had been super evil to him), “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good!” The worst thing that ever happened was when the Son of God, who had NEVER done ANYTHING wrong, was killed. Satan probably thought he had won–that he had beaten God! But God used that terrible sin to save all His people! The joke’s on the devil, because Jesus wins every time!

Third, we can have peace about these questions, the more we get to know Jesus. In Philippians 4:7, God tells us that “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” The more we live with God, trusting in Jesus, following the Holy Spirit who lives inside God’s children, the better we feel about life, and God’s control over the world. The Bible says (in Romans 1:17) that the righteousness of God is revealed in the Gospel (the good news about Jesus) “from faith for faith.” In other words, when we trust in Jesus, God gives us His Holy Spirit who helps us trust in Jesus more and more and more.

So to summarize it…

  1. God knows what He’s doing… even though we don’t!
  2. God’s plan is not just to make a good world, but to bring about a good world in which good completely wins the victory over evil. God will bring every bad thing that the evil devil does around for good. Take that, Devil!
  3. God will help you understand and trust Him more and more–even when you don’t totally get it, because He’s always with you!

Why I Believe the Bible’s “Crazy” Stories (or: What Shrek Can Teach Us about Knowledge)

The movie “Shrek” features a talking donkey (creatively named just, “Donkey”). Did you ever stop to think that Donkey was a subtle dig against the Bible? Here is why: the characters of Shrek are ostensibly all from fairy tales (Pinocchio, the Ginger Bread Man, etc.). By including the talking donkey, Dreamworks is basically lumping the Bible in with the “other” fairy tales.

Because the Bible has a talking donkey in it. Read on.

The other night, at a certain weekly discussion group of which I am a part, the question came up concerning the stories of the Bible that seem, not merely miraculous (such as Jesus turning water into wine or raising the dead), but actually outlandish. You know, the Bible reports as historical fact such events as the following:

The difficulty of these stories

These stories seem far-fetched to our (post)modern sensibilities. They really seem like fairy tales–unbelievable. The stuff of story books and CGI movies for children.

Of course, these stories undoubtably seemed far-fetched even to many of the pre-modern people who read the accounts. Talking snakes and donkeys were not everyday occurrences then, either.

Certainly, pre-moderns had myths of all shapes and sizes, but the Bible does not present itself as myth. It presents as historical truth–a factual account of a rational Creator who loves, judges, and communicates with His people. Yet this historical account is peppered with stories that stick out like a sore thumb, stories which stretch our sense of plausibility.

So why do we, and I am speaking of followers of Jesus today, believe those stories? Why do we not simply accept the “reasonable” stories, and discard the others as myth–as good-natured attempts of pre-modern theocrats, doing their best to make sense of the world using nature imagery and metaphor? Why not do that? I can think of many reasons (including the astounding archaeological evidence that corroborates the Bible), but I want to focus in on just two, and one is far more important than the other.

Because genre matters

The first reason is this: to discard the unexpected, outlandish-seeming stories from Scripture is to do damage to the text. These stories were not written as fairy-tale add-ons to an otherwise sensible historical narrative. They are part of the warp and woof of the tapestry of the God’s story. They belong in Scripture, and they are written as history. Sure, we could ignore all that and simply decide to only accept what seems appropriate to us.

But in doing that, we would be ignoring all meaningful categories of genre and authorial intent.

Far from making the Bible more intelligent, chopping it up that way–with total disregard to what the biblical authors intended–is a far less intelligent way of interacting with ancient texts, or any texts for that matter. More than being un-faithful, it would be un-intelligent and incoherent.

Because Jesus matters

The second reason why we should believe the stories in the Bible that offend our sense of reasonability is simply this: Jesus believed them.

To read the Gospels (the four accounts of Jesus’ life in the New Testament) is to read about a Messiah whose life and ministry were deeply rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures (what we call the Old Testament–which contains many of the aforementioned “outlandish” stories).

For example, Matt Slick (in this excellent article) that Jesus believed in…

Jesus believed in the Bible. All of it. Even the hard parts. And that matters, because of who Jesus is.

He is God’s ultimate prophet, conveying God’s truth in an infallible way–He cannot be wrong.

He is the king of the universe, and He commands His people to believe God’s word–of which word He claims to be the central theme.

He is the ultimate counselor, who lovingly guides his people like a shepherd leading his sheep, by the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit and through the Bible.

When the King of Everything tells us to believe and obey something, our first response ought to be absolute, unquestioning belief and obedience. Of course, we all stumble and struggle in many ways. None of us has totally perfect faith (as my dad says, “only one person was ever perfect, and they crucified Him”).

However, there can be no question that Jesus believed the Old Testament is true. We can rest confident that God the Son knows what He is talking about.

What this means about everything else the Bible teaches

I do not have time to get into it right now, but there are some wonderful implications of the above.

The Bible lays out the world’s most comprehensive, cohesive and coherent worldview ever. No other system so satisfyingly, so scientifically, so truthfully answers the deepest questions of life:

  • Who are we?
  • What’s wrong with us?
  • How do we fix it?
  • Where are we going?

I have argued elsewhere (though I am certainly not the first to do so!) that the Bible, taken as a whole, alone provides an adequate basis for science and knowledge–for thinking we can know anything at all. But that means it all must be true, even the part about the talking donkey and the big fish. All 66 books of the Bible, and everything in them, must be true, or none of it is.

To conclude: because Jesus believes the Bible, we must believe it too. So while Shrek may have been poking fun at something unexpected in Scripture, it turns out to have been getting at something much deeper. We really can know, because the Bible told us so. Now sing it with me: “some-BODY once told me….”

On Being Prepared to Defend Your Faith

In the Bible, God instructs his people to be prepared at all times to give a response, whenever anyone asks us about the hope that we have.

Most followers of Jesus have probably heard that command, yet how many of us are confident that we could, at the drop of the proverbial hat, feel ready to give an adequate defense of the Christian message?

A few months back, I was asked to create a resource that will answer the biggest objections and questions that people have about the Christian faith. If you know anything about me, you know that one of my main passions in life is tackling the tough questions–I do not always have the answers, but it’s a real thrill tracking them down. And I happen to be a believer that, as God’s breathed-out word (2 Tim. 3:16-17), the Bible has the answers contained within it; any resource like this is going to direct folks right back to Scripture. So the thought of creating a resource that would defend Christianity against the toughest objections out there, and encourage my friends at Park to get deeper into the Bible, was really exciting to me. It was exciting to the other Park pastors as well–and a couple of them actually had enough margin in their schedules (a small miracle to be sure, given that many are husbands and dads–and all are incredibly busy) to be able to come alongside me on the project.

This initiative will certainly be aimed at non-believers who have real questions and objections, but it will also be for equipping Christ-followers to obey that command that we all know, but most of us never quite feel ready for: defending the faith.

More details will follow. However, in the meantime, maybe your interest in defending the faith has been piqued. If that’s the case, I want to recommend the blog of another Settecase–my brother Parker. Parker has been tackling some of the toughest questions and objections against the Christian faith for awhile now, and he does it well. You can also check out my older blog, with the unfortunate title, “Don’t Forget to Think.” And one final recommendation: go get The Reason for God, by Timothy Keller, right now. Read it and re-read it, then hand it off to a friend (maybe that one friend or coworker with all the objections about God that you never quite know how to answer). You will be glad you did.

Every follower of Jesus needs to be able to obey the command to be prepared to defend his or her faith. The steps we take today can prepare you to better do that tomorrow. Happy preparing!

Why Does God Allow Evil In The World?

This topic has come up a  couple times in recent days, so I wanted to just bang out a few thoughts on it.

What follows is not a full, scholarly treatment on Problem of Evil (in any of its various philosophical formulations). However, I hope it might be helpful to you, the next time someone poses this question to you.

I’m happy to get any feedback on this–and certainly let me know if you are able to use it in a spiritual conversation!

Why does the all-powerful, perfectly good God allow evil in the world? 

  1. God is good and the ultimate standard for what can be defined as good. Without God, there is no way of accounting for good.

    And evil is the opposite of good, so there is no way to account for evil if you don’t already know what good is.

    Therefore, unless you believe in God (as He has revealed Himself in the Bible) you can’t say anything meaningful about evil. So we have to start there.

  2. If God allows evil to happen in the world (and He does), then there must be a good reason behind it. The perfectly-good God of the universe is working all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28-30).

    In this world or any other, evil can never ultimately “win.”

  3. God does allow evil–both natural “evil” and evil committed by evil beings (humans and evil spirits). We see this in Scripture and in life.
  4. There are biblical examples of God intending and even predestining evil people to freely commit evil actions, in order that God’s surpassing goodness might be worked out in the end. For examples, consider Joseph’s brothers selling him into slavery (explained in Genesis 50:20) and the betrayal and crucifixion of Jesus (explained in Acts 1:16-17; 4:27-28).

    God is not the author of evil–He is light, and there is no darkness in Him (1 John 1:5). However, He is sovereign over everyone and everything, the righteous and the wicked, and He is free to use it all according to His good purposes. He uses good people to make good decisions and bring about in good outcomes (often far better than was even intended!); He also uses evil people to make sinful decisions and result in (ultimately) good outcomes. How incredibly frustrating that must be for the devil! All his evil schemes keep being turned around against him to bring about good in the end!

    Take, for example, the worst sin that was ever committed. The unjust torture and crucifixion of the only perfect man to ever live–God Himself in the flesh–turned out to be part of God’s plan to carry out the greatest rescue act in history.

    Every time the Lord does this, the good He brings about far surpasses the evil that was worked, which, while still being authentically wrong, pales in comparison to the glorious greatness of God’s goodness.

  5. To keep from making this any longer, let’s summarize: God allows evil in the world, in order to demonstrate that He is so good that even evil cannot upset His good, pleasing and perfect will.
  6. When the redemption of Jesus becomes a reality in your life, He gives you a completely new perspective on the evil in the world and in your life. Jesus gives you the Holy Spirit to be with you and comfort you during your suffering.

    Even in your hour of death, He will be there to strengthen you and to welcome you into Christ’s kingdom, where evil is finally overcome and only goodness remains. Again, the worst thing becomes the best thing. That’s how incredibly good God is.

Trying to Do It Yourself?

The Bible says that God is the one who brings good out of evil and calamity in the world. However, if you are like me, you naturally like to be the one in control. You would rather shape and direct your own life, but you and I cannot possibly work everything out for good. That is a God-sized task, and we can only get that from Him. And the Bible says we can only get to Him through Jesus (John 14:6).

If you don’t yet know Jesus, you can meet Him right now! Repent–give up trying to bring about your own good in your life (how’s that been working for you anyway?), and trust in Him. Claim Jesus as Lord and believe that God raised Him from the dead (the ultimate good-out-of-evil story), and He will save you (Romans 10:9-11).

Want to know more? Looking for more resources to use in spiritual conversations? Got Bible questions? Drop me a line: jsettecase@parkcommunitychurch.org.

How Did Jesus Argue?

Jesus was a master of apologetics (what John Frame calls “the theological discipline that defends the truth of the Christian message). Of course, He is the Master of everything, so it makes sense that He would defend truth in a masterful way. In the New Testament, there are many examples of Jesus engaging with His opponents in apologetical discussions. A brilliant example of this is found in Mark 3:22-30:

The scribes who had come down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul in Him!” and, “He drives out demons by the ruler of the demons!”

So He summoned them and spoke to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan rebels against himself and is divided, he cannot stand but is finished!

“On the other hand, no one can enter a strong man’s house and rob his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he will rob his house. I assure you: People will be forgiven for all sins[b] and whatever blasphemies they may blaspheme. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”because they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”

In this encounter with his perennial opponents, Jesus is engaging in presuppositional apologetics. He begins with a claim of theirs–it happens to be common ground they both agree with–that a demon has been cast out of someone.
Then Jesus hits them with a one-two punch. First He goes on offense: “Answer a fool according to his foolishness, or he’ll become wise in his own eyes” (Prov. 26:4). Then He plays defense: “Don’t answer a fool according to his foolishness or you’ll be like him yourself” (Prov. 26:4).

(vv. 23-26) Offense

Jesus goes on the offense against their argument. Jesus steps into their worldview for the sake of argument and shows them that their reasoning is self-refuting and therefore necessarily false.
His argument:
  1. If I were possessed by Beelzeboul, then I would be working for Satan’s kingdom.
  2. If I am casting out demons, then I am working against Satan’s kingdom.
  3. If I am casting out demons by Beelzeboul, then I would be working for and against Satan’s kingdom.
That is logically incoherent and self-refuting. It is necessarily false. (Side note: this shows that the scribes could not actually believe this in any kind of rational way. Jesus is betraying their heart commitments. They couldn’t really believe that Jesus was working for Satan, but because they refused to believe in Him, they were forced to accept an obvious, irrational falsehood. This is what inevitably happens to all non-biblical world views.)
I suppose they could have argued back, “Well then Satan is obviously stupidly working against himself!” But this is refuted by considering that their whole argument was based on the craftiness of Satan’s strategy. So is Satan being crafty or stupid? Jesus implicitly says (as one commentator has pointed out), “Satan is evil, but he is not stupid.” This would have been accepted by all.

(v. 27) Defense

Jesus defends the truth. Jesus refuses to accept their presupposition (that He is not the divine Messiah), and demonstrates that the only possible correct view is that He is more powerful than Satan. The only one more powerful than Satan is God. The scribes believed this. Therefore Jesus is forcing them, by their own worldview, to admit that He is God. Of course, this entails that they owe Him their allegiance and faith. But the only way around that is to deny what they already claim to believe. Look at their options:
  1. They could argue that a demon was not really cast out–but the exorcism was so obvious that this would turn them into radically skeptic anti-supernaturalists–not even an option in that culture, and surely this would disqualify them from being scribes!
  2. They could argue that a mere man could possibly cast out demons without God’s approval and power–but this too would force them to abandon their pretense of a biblical worldview, disqualifying them from being scribes.
  3. They could admit that Jesus actually is the Messiah sent from God, operating in God’s power, and actually is God (because He’s claimed divine attributes and clearly has God’s approval for doing so), and is casting out demons by God’s power and authority.
What they cannot argue is that Jesus was casting out demons by the “ruler of the demons.” Jesus has brilliantly taken that option away from them and masterfully backed them into an inescapable corner.
It’s interesting that, after Jesus speaks, we don’t hear from the scribes again in this exchange. After all, what could they say? Their argument and lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God has been destroyed, and their thoughts have been taken captive to obey Christ, the Master Apologist.

Application for us

When we face challenges in spiritual conversations we may (must!) follow the Lord’s example.
  1. Go on the offense. Demonstrate that our conversation partner “can’t get there from here.” Their worldview doesn’t lead them to where they want to go, and in fact it refutes itself.
  2. Defend the truth. Show that the biblical teaching is the only possible way to get there.
For example, a man who says God can’t exist because evil exists, has no way of accounting for a meaningful definition of evil according to his worldview. However, the Bible not only accounts for evil but also provides a solution for it in the Gospel, which they have an obligation to hear and obey (believe).
In this passage, Jesus teaches important truth about His identity as the God-Man Messiah, also on blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, but He also gives us a template for handling challenges and objections in spiritual conversations.