Ask Steve: What is Apologetics?

October 28, 2014 4:16 am

Red Sea

 

Currently Reading:

The Red Sea Rules: 10 God-Given Strategies for Difficult Times

by Robert J. Morgan

Category: Christian Living

2001, Thomas Nelson

 

 

 

Question: Hello Steve. What is apologetics? Are there any passages in the Bible that specifically teach us anything about apologetics? If so what are those passages and what can we learn from them?

Answer: Apologetics comes from the Greek term apologia, from which we get the English word ‘apology.’ Contrary to its modern English meaning, apologia does not mean that we are sorry for something or seek for forgiveness from those we have offended. Rather, it means quite the opposite. It is defending a claim against objections. As it relates to Christianity, apologetics is “the defense of the Christian faith against falsehood, inconsistency, and credulity,” as Steven Cowan states. It is both an intellectual and practical exercise that all Christians should be familiar with to some degree, since we are all called to evangelize, give witness, and be ready to make a “defense [apologia] to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (1 Pet 3:15).

There are four functions of apologetics. The first one is to provide proof. Apologetics is the art of using scientific, historical, geographical, archaeological, and philosophical arguments to shed light on the accurate words of Scripture. This is often called the positive case for Christianity. In other words, Christianity is reasonable. The second function is to provide a defense. This is defending the truth claims of Scripture against misunderstandings, misrepresentations, and defamations that seek to assault its integrity. By answering objections, questions, and criticisms, Christianity is shown to not be unreasonable, as many skeptics would argue. The third function is to provide an offense. The apologist not only defends God’s word, but seeks to dismantle the foundations of the counterviews (which are many in the world). This discipline shows that other worldviews, religions, and philosophical systems are false, inconsistent, and often times unreasonable. The fourth and last function is to provide a witness. This is the end goal of all apologetics, which is to use apologetics in service of bolstering the gospel message and evangelizing the prospect. People not only need to acknowledge the truth of Christianity, but embrace it, since souls are on the line. Christ commands the church to evangelize in carrying out the Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20), therefore apologetics should ultimately be aimed at reaching the lost with the gospel. Failure to do this will makes apologetics a futile endeavor.

There are many instances in Scripture in which apologetics is used. In Acts 22:1, the Apostle Paul says, “Brethren and fathers, hear my defense [apologia] which I now offer to you.” Paul also defends the faith when standing before King Agrippa, saying, “I answered them that it is not the custom of the Romans to hand over any man before the accused meets his accusers face to face and has an opportunity to make his defense [apologia] against the charges” (Acts 25:16). Paul also speaks in epistles such as 1 Corinthians: “My defense [apologia] to those who examine me is this. . .” (1 Cor 9:3). In all of these cases, Paul’s goal is to defend the Christian faith against attacks and accusations, whether from common citizens or kings, with the goal of proclaiming the truth of the gospel. This has been the practice of 1st century apostles, as well as Christians in the centuries thereafter.

There are many things we can learn from these apologetics passages in the Bible. One of the most valuable implications is the technique of apologetics. One such example comes from Acts 17:16-34. Here, Paul preaches open air to the Gentiles of Athens, examining the “unknown god” that stands prominently in the Areopagus. If you read through this passage, you will notice four things about Paul’s apologetic technique:

Paul identifies and interacts with the falsehood. The Apostle begins his sermon by acknowledging the religious nature of the Athenians, and even pointing to the object of their religion – an altar that displayed an “Unknown god” (v. 23). Of course, we know that this altar god is merely an idol, through it may have been a manifestation of the Gentile’s understanding of God from general revelation. However, this does not equate entirely with the God who revealed Himself in Scripture, who can only be known through special revelation of His word. However, Paul uses the identity of this mysterious god in his opening argument. He identifies the idol and calls it an object that the Athenians worship in ignorance (v. 24). Paul goes on to describe the nature of what God is like – that He does not dwell in temples or is made up of gold and silver. This is all in contrast to man-made idols, which Paul debunks in his speech.

Paul uses logic and reason to reveal the error of the falsehood, and to shed light on the truth. The Apostle does this by not only refuting the erroneous nature of God (which characterizes all false religions in history), but asserting what the true God is like, which can be observed in general revelation. Paul declares that this one true God is Lord over all heaven and earth (v. 24), made all people (v. 25), and sustains life to this day (v. 28). These are observations that we understand from looking at God’s invisible power and nature from creation (Rom 1:19-20). But it is first and foremost true because God revealed these truths about Himself in many parts of Scripture. If the Bible is God’s inspired word, then it is a true testimony concerning all matters of life (2 Tim 3:16-17).

Paul gives historical proof that supports his claim. Now that Paul reveals the falsehood and unravels its error, he goes on to use historical proof to bolster what the word of God already says about the existence and authority of Yahweh. He speaks about the historical event of Jesus’ resurrection (v. 31) as proof that Jesus’ claims of salvation in His name were true and binding on all humanity. This event furnishes sufficient proof to the world that the God of Paul is the true God of this world, that Jesus Himself was God, and that He will one day judge the living and the dead (v. 30).

Paul calls on his audience to believe the gospel. As I have mentioned, this is where apologetics should always lead to. Paul closes this section by exhorting the listeners in the Areopagus to repent, because “He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed…” (v. 30-31). And that man is the person of Jesus Christ. Paul says of faith defense as “destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ…” (2 Cor 10:5).

This is one of a few good passages that demonstrate good apologetics in action. It is always grounded in God’s word. It uses empirical evidence to support Scripture. It is a defense and an offense. It seeks to bolster the faith of Christians and aid in the task of evangelism. Because it is important to help believers know more about their faith and to bring unbelievers to a saving knowledge of Christ, apologetics is indispensable to pastoral ministry, counseling, and the life of the individual believer. It is especially important now in an age where vicious attacks come from all angles to dismantle the Christian faith and get people to disbelieve the Bible. Through not every Christian becomes a world class intellect and arguer of the Christian faith, every Christian is called to know enough to defend his faith and, at times, strengthen the faith of others. That is the essence of 1 Corinthians 9:3 and 1 Peter 3:15.

Ask Steve: Evil and Suffering

October 19, 2014 12:45 am

evil

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question: Steve, I never know what to say when I hear someone state that they don’t know if God exists because of all the suffering and evil in the world. Does the problem of evil defeat Christianity? What should I say to those who think this?

Answer: The problem of evil and suffering is one of the most difficult issues to address, especially to a non-Christian world. Unlike other topics in the Bible that are clear, such as the exclusivity of salvation in Christ, characteristics that define Christian growth, and even the attributes of God, evil and suffering provides no definite answer to those who wonder why they are currently going through inexplicable pain and hardships. On a larger scale, why would God allow such things as the Holocaust, mass genocides of children, physical handicaps, rape, and diseases in the first place?

The traditional argument raised by skeptics is that if God is all powerful and all good, evil cannot possibly exist. Since evil exists in the world, then that must mean God is either not all powerful or not all good. As the 4th century B.C. Greek philosopher Epicurus once asked, “If God is not limited in either power or benevolence, why is there evil in the world?”

The intent of this response is to reconcile an all powerful, all good, and all just God with the existence of evil in the world, and to show that the Christian worldview is the most rational explanation as to why evil exists, and where evil is ultimately going. In the world of theology, this is called theodicy.

Deuteronomy 29:29 reads, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons, that we may observe all the words of this law.” This means that there are certain things that God revealed to us – such as what we need to know for our salvation and sanctification – but other things that only God knows. We are not commanded or expected to seek out answers to these questions and topics. And one of those questions is why evil exists or the reason behind the sufferings or heartaches of particular people (such as a premature death of a family member, an unexpected disease, a financial crisis, etc). In these cases, we are only called to trust, obey, and fear God implicitly, which is what the whole book of Job teaches.

From God’s perspective, there is no problem with evil. God is all powerful and all good, which means that He is entirely just and righteous in all His dealings. God wields His justice in accordance with His wisdom. This is not out of accord with the fact that evil exists. In fact, if evil did not exist, then how can we know the depth of God’s justice, since there would be no injustice/evil to demonstrate that on? God is not capable of evil because of His immutable character. He is forever holy, which encompasses His attributes of love, righteousness, and justice. However, created beings (such as humans) are not holy and infinite as G0d is, which is why they are capable of erring. That is where evil originally stemmed from.

God created finite human beings who are capable of choosing good or evil, and man chose what is evil. Thus, evil is the degradation of what was once good, since God created all things in the very beginning to be good (Gen 1:31). Man is held responsible for the evil and sufferings of this world, which is why they will be ultimately judged (Matt 7:23; Rev 20:11-15). They will not be able to claim ignorance or shift blame on others. If God is the one who creates evil, tempts man, or does evil Himself, then God wouldn’t be good. He would truly be the one to blame. However, God did not create or performs evil, but allows evil to exist, which has its origins from Satan, the fallen angels, and fallen humanity, and uses it in His master plan to accomplish His good purposes, both during and at the close of history. God will punish all evil someday, otherwise He wouldn’t be good and righteous (Ex. 34:7).

The Bible not only tells us that God always does what is right, but He does all things for His glory. He allows evil and suffering to exist so He can show the full array of His divine attributes. If evil, sin, and suffering did not exist, then He cannot show compassion and mercy to those who suffer or need forgiveness for their sins (because everything in the world would be perfect). We would also not be able to demonstrate these characteristics as well. If evil did not exist, then God cannot display His righteous justice against those who transgress His holiness by their evil deeds, whether lying, stealing, adultery, idolatry, etc. That is why Paul quotes, concerning God’s dealings with Pharaoh in ancient times, “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISED YOU UP, TO DEMONSTRATE MY POWER IN YOU, AND THAT MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH.’” (Rom. 9:17).

This passage in Romans 9 also goes on to explain that God raises up vessels that are both good and bad so that He can display His divine attributes of compassion and judgment. This fact explains the wonders of God to show that He truly is God, since only a holy and all-powerful God can display His attributes for His creation to see. Romans 9:19-23 says, “You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? ‘The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory…”

In other words, the world, as it is, is the most appropriate world to bring God the most glory. Not only does God exercise the full arsenal of His attributes for His glory, but for the whole of creation to experience. For the saints who are redeemed in Christ, this is a wondrous observation, since we not only get to see the omnipotence, omniscience, and righteous judgment against evil on display, but His infinite love and mercy that is expressed in God’s salvation of those whom He predestined before creation. This is all the more reason for us to praise Him, which is what we will do for all eternity in heaven.

As I mentioned, God does not reveal the reason behind certain types of suffering, or even why righteous people suffer, but we should remember to remain humble, be dependent on God, and trust in Him during these frightening times. Because of multiple factors going on, the reason for suffering is not always apparent or easily comprehending to the human mind. Scripture depicts suffering happening at times because of what God allows Satan to do to us in order to strengthen our faith or refine us (Job 1-2; Eph 6:10-12). Suffering happens as a natural consequence of sin, which brought death, suffering, and disease to all humanity, regardless of whether they are believers or not. Evil and suffering can even be used by God to disciple His children if they need to repent and get back on the track of obedience to God (Matt 5:26; 18:15-20; Prov 3:11-12). There are other times when God uses trials and persecution so that we can respond in obedience, which leads to increased eternal blessings (Jas 1:12; Rev 2:10). Yet there are also situations in which God allows evil and suffering in our lives in order to use our situations to impact other people (ex. the salvation of others), which we do not know most of the time. In essence, God causes all things to work out for good to those who trust in Him (Gen 50:20; Rom 8:28).

Regardless, the presence of evil, suffering, and death is meant to teach us one thing: sin is destruction, an offense to God, therefore we need to repent before God. The presence of evil is not meant to dissuade belief in the existence of God, but rather reveal it. Because if there is no God, then there is no absolute standard of right and wrong. So how do we know what is evil if there is no unbending standard of good to compare it with? If such a standard exists, then it can only come from God. No atheistic worldview can adequately explain this moral issue.

The tension between evil and suffering and a good God is solved in that God is not the creator of evil, but uses it in His sovereign plan to bring out His ultimate good for His glory. He has a sufficient reason to allow it to exist, which is to demonstrate the fullness of His glorious attributes throughout history, to explain the seriousness and consequences of sin and evil to people, and to bring about His perfecting work in finite beings who would otherwise not learn dependence, perseverance, compassion, and self-control had it not been for evil. Sin and evil will one day be judged and forever cast away, with only joy, happiness, and good existing forever afterwards (Rev 21-22). Until then, we should remain humble in our outlook on life, come to God for salvation (before He rightfully judges evil), and depend on God for our strength in doing His work in the world.

The question is not, “How can a good God allow bad things to happen to good people?” Rather, the question should be, “How can a good God allow people to live after they have sinned continuously against Him?” God could have killed us the moment we told our first lie or thought an hateful thought, but God allows us to live because of His great mercy, so that people would come to repentance and faith in Christ (Jn 3:16; 2 Pet 3:9).  

Next time you are faced with the temptation to question God on evil and suffering, reflect on what author C.J. Mahaney once said, “I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but this I do know: Because of the cross, I will do much better than I deserve.”

Recommended Resource: If God is Good by Randy Alcorn

 

Answer provided by Steve Cha, author of Hollywood Mission: Possible:

Matthew 5:21-26 Sermon

October 18, 2014 1:34 am

Preaching on Matthew 5:21-26 in a message called Murderers Anonymous:

Book Review: The Skeletons in God’s Closet by Joshua Ryan Butler

October 16, 2014 1:41 am

Skeleton

The new book by Joshua Butler, The Skeletons in God’s Closet, is meant to be a sort of apologetics book answering the difficult questions that are posed by skeptics, and even believers, of the Christian faith. The questions include, “How can a loving God send people to Hell?” and “Why is there so much violence in the Old Testament?” This includes topics like the holy war against the Canaanites and God’s exclusion of other religions from eternal life.

Though this book has some good insights regarding the nature of idolatry, sin, and historic references, it is ultimately problematic in that its interpretation of many of the questions raised is inaccurate and even heretical. For example, the Butler claims that the lake of fire is not a place where people receive eternal conscious torment, but rather “an apocalyptic symbol for the smoldering rubble of Babylon. It speaks to God’s judgment on empire, not the torture of individuals” (pg. 286). Other than the fact that this view is without any significant support from the Bible, early church Fathers, and the leaders of the Reformation, it is one that is speculative and based on poor interpretation of the text, especially in light of the other texts in which Jesus clearly described the nature of hell, as both eternal (like heaven) and conscious (like heaven) (Matt 5:22; Mt 10:28; Jas 3:6; 2 Pet 2:4). Usually when symbolism or parables are used, they are employed to highlight or elaborate on literal realities, not to be symbols or another “symbol.” Look at what the author even says about what hell is: “…not a chamber God locks from the outside against our repentant will, but a closet we latch from the inside through our unrepentant will, in our desire for freedom from God…” (pg. 100). Basically, hell is pictured as personal sin struggles that people are held captive to, rather than a place where God assigns those who have broken His law and sinned against Him.

The author even tries to downplay God’s “harshness” on the Canaanites, saying that Canaan’s brutal empire is being evicted from Eden. This means that the judgment on the Canaanites was not the “holy war” that was inflicted on them from the Israelite invaders by a God who approved such thing. As it regards the world religions and the possibility that they might be lost and judged for their rejection of the gospel, Butler hints at the idea of universal reconciliation, that by the end of world history, just the reconciliation itself will be a form of judgment on the religions of the world that have been guilty of idolatry (pg. 183).

A lot more can be said about the theological errors and interpretations of these questions, but when it all comes down to it, Butler tries to justify the God of the Bible by trying to heighten the loving, kind, and peaceful aspects of God while trying to rid of God’s righteousness, holiness, and justice. God is a loving and compassionate God, yet He is also just and righteous who has a zeal for His holiness. Sin and evil must be punished, or else God wouldn’t be good. He will by no means clear the guilty (Ex 34:8).

If Butler (or any other believer) has problems with the judgments of God because it seems offensive to him, then it only shows that He does not understand the holiness of God. If human judges send criminals to jail for offenses that they committed against the government, how much more should God, who is perfect in His being and morality? That is the whole point of all the judgments that are described in the Old Testament, and even the eternal judgment that is coming at Christ’s Second Coming. That is why earthly judgments (against the Canaanites) and eternal judgment of people are realities, whether we like it or not. I’m not admitting that my mind can fully comprehend the horrors of these righteous judgments, but if the Scripture says so, then we must trust in its words (as we also believe in the mystery of the Trinity, God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility, etc).

Although I wish I could have given this book a high recommendation (since it is provides some interesting insights on some issues), I ultimately cannot because of the fact that it gets so much of the interpretations wrong. It may satisfy skeptics, liberals, and opponents of the Christian faith, but is the gospel (or any Christian doctrine) really meant to do that? “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor 1:18).

This book (although well intentioned) does more damage to the cause of the gospel than simply telling the truth of Scripture the way it is. It is not only a false representation of God’s holiness and sovereign plan, but also on the inerrancy of Scripture (which includes the truth of Scripture’s perspicuity). No serious Bible scholar (whether it be John Calvin, Martin Luther, Augustine, John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, John Piper), or even simple laypeople, could read Scripture and come up with the interpretations and teachings that Butler put forth here, especially if you are abiding faithfully by the grammatical-historical hermeneutics. This book serves as an interesting study on the nature of alternative views posed by liberal believers, but that is all I can really commend it for.

Note: This book was provided free to me from Booklookbloggers.com. I was not obligated to write a good or bad review, but only my honest evaluation.

 

This book reviewed by Steve Cha, author of Hollywood Mission: Possible:

Things to be Thankful For

October 16, 2014 12:14 am

Cross

 

Currently Reading:

The Cross Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel the Main Thing

by C.J. Mahaney

Category: Christian Living

2002, Multnomah Books

 

 

 

Is it really helpful to write out a list of things to be thankful for? It sure is. It helps foster contentment, humility, and gratitude. If you have been given so much in life, then how can you show ingratitude to God by craving for more, especially if they are sinful things motivated by pride, lust, and covetousness?

Here is a list of some of the things I am thankful for:

1. For my salvation in Christ, since there are many out there who have not been elected for this fate.

2. My supportive family, since there are many families who persecute their sons for their faith.

3. My car, since there are others who have worse cars, or even non at all.

4. The fact that my car is fully paid off, while others are still paying for it. 

5. For my part time job that provides salary and food benefits. There are many jobs out there that don’t provide food.

6. For my living space. There are other apartments out there that are smaller.

7. For my neighborhood. There are many neighborhoods that are not safe, if not have many conveniences close by.

8. For my Bible. There are many in the world who don’t have a Bible, especially in the Middle East and China.

9. For my fully funded TMS education, since many students are working hard to pay the bills.

10. For the fact that I have a little bit of savings. Many are currently in debt.

11. For my 2 new shoes, for there are some who have been wearing a single pair for over a decade.

12. For my air conditioning in the apartment, for there are some apartments that don’t have air conditioning.

13. For my access to free water, for some homes don’t get it for free.

14. For my free soaps and toothpaste, for there are many families that buy them.

15. For my large selection of ties, for there are people who don’t have many ties to choose from.

16. For my free Bible software, for many had to pay for theirs.

17. For my bed, for there are many who sleep on the floor. 

18. For my leather computer bag, for there are many who don’t have leather computer bags, if not a computer bag at all.

 

So next time I think about coveting for something I don’t have, I should look at this list and think of all the things that I have been blessed with in life. 

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7

Book Review: The Sacred Year by Michael Yankoski

October 4, 2014 9:57 pm

Sacred

The Sacred Year is a new book by Michael Yankoski. It is somewhat of an autobiographical book with themes of reflective Christian living, which is meant to teach and inspire us to live out a more fulfilled and meaningful Christian life. It is the story of the author (who constantly speaks about the importance and need to live a life of faith) stepping out in practice of it. That is the meat of the book.

Yankoski describes his different experiences that cause him to contemplate its beauty, mystery, and significance in relation to who God is and what He purposed for believers. This includes acts of fasting, observing Sabbaths, the practice of confession, his journey into the wilderness, and the practice of gratitude. What’s helpful about this book is its easy to read narrative, along with the atmosphere that author is able to describe through his experiences. You really feel what he is feeling and seeing the sights and hearing the sounds. The book also has some depth in that it is a theological, spiritual reflection on each on of these experiences, broken down by chapters. This is meant to show what the author learned and experienced, and how that relates to Christian living.

Although I can’t say that all of Yankoski’s “spiritual beliefs” are biblical or theologically accurate (especially in his somewhat ecumenical approach to the Christian faith), I can say that, for what its worth, the book is very inspirational, reflective, and soul-searching. It really causes the reader to reflect on the Christian living, which is not just learning, but doing. It is about putting faith into practice. In that sense, the book is quite good in helping you see the importance and value of things in life that should foster humility, gratitude, and self-less service to others.

Note: I received this book free from Booklookbloggers.com as part of their review program. I was not obligated to write a good review, but only my honest opinion.

 

Reviewed by Steve Cha, author of Hollywood Mission: Possible: