Monday, 27 February 2012

What's the use?

The "Unbelievable?" radio show on 18th February was on the subject, "Is apologetics a waste of time?"

The atheist, James Croft, on the show was affirming that it was.  His view was that if an argument is a good argument then it should convince any reasonable person, and since he's a reasonable person and not convinced then the arguments aren't good.  Let me set that out in a way we can pick apart:
1. A good argument should convince any reasonable person
2. He is a reasonable person
3. He isn't convinced
4. Therefore the arguments for Christianity aren't good

I think there are issues with each line.
1. A good argument should convince any reasonable person - but someone could be reasonable, yet not be in possession of all the relevant facts.  He could be ignorant of key points, and therefore not find the argument convincing.  For example, many people seem to think that the universe could just spring into existence out of nothing without a cause because they think that "nothing" has laws, properties and potentiality.  But of course that isn't nothing!  Nothing is not anything - it has no properties, it is not governed by any laws, it has no potential.  That is why creation out of nothing cannot be explained naturalistically - it requires a transcendent cause.

2. He is a reasonable person - well, I'm sure he is in most areas of life, but this is not like other areas of life.  No one approaches this without bias.  The Bible teaches that by nature we are haters of God, because of the devil our minds are blinded (2 Corinthians 4 v 4), and because of sin our understanding is darkened (Ephesians 4 v 18).  When it comes to the matter of a sovereign God to whom we are accountable, people can become very unreasonable, see for example the fact that they accept the universe popping into existence uncaused, they refuse to see that the fact of objective morality demands a personal righteous God, they deny the many amazing prophecies of the Bible, they dismiss the overwhelming evidence of the resurrection (more about that in a minute), and discount the indisputable power of the Gospel in the lives of millions.  James Croft said he needs extraordinary evidence for these extraordinary claims.  What I think this really means is that no matter what evidence is presented he can simply say "It's not enough, I can go on living the life I want to live."  Despite the fact that he can't live his life consistent with his unbelief - he lives his life depending on the law of cause and effect, assuming that reason is valid, and morality is objective and obligatory.  He cannot live any other way, and yet he denies the only possible grounding for these necessities of life - God.  This is not reasonable. 

3. He isn't convinced - he says he doesn't believe in God, yet he can't live a life consistent with that statement on the foundational level.  He is like the prodigal son who takes what the father gives and uses it in rebelling against him.  

4. Therefore the arguments for Christianity aren't good - needless to say, the conclusion is wrong because each premise is wrong.

So what is the use of apologetics?  Well, it can expose the irrationality of unbelief.  But also, for someone who is prepared to go wherever the truth leads, who is prepared to bow to God, apologetics can remove genuine difficulties, answer sincere questions, and clear away false notions and wrong ideas people have imbibed. 

I want to say something about James Croft's point about the resurrection.  He said that no matter how many eyewitnesses there were to the event we are not justified in believing in a resurrection because if he (James) claimed to have been raised from the dead, we would never believe it, no matter how many people claimed to have seen it.  There are some major differences though that James isn't taking into consideration.  He's quite right that I would remain very much an unbeliever regarding his "resurrection" even if he produced eyewitnesses.  However, if he were living in a culture and at a time in which there were Messianic expectations, if he performed miraculous deeds and made claims to deity, I would be a bit more interested in his claim because then the resurrection would actually take on a real significance.  Remember too, the Jews had no concept of a dying (never mind rising) Messiah, and the thought of a resurrection of an individual was totally foreign to their thinking

God doesn't just perform miracles to give Him something to do, miracles are a means of vindicating people and validating claims.  If James said he'd been raised from the dead by God, I would be wanting to know why?  It is outside of any meaningful theological context, but this is not the case for Jesus Christ.  He made claims which the Jews took to be blasphemous, and those claims certainly would have been if they had not been true.  For those claims the Jews persuaded Pilate to have Him crucified.  The resurrection therefore is God's glorious vindication of who Jesus Christ claimed to be.

Furthermore, the disciples put their lives in jeopardy with the Jews by preaching this message of the risen Christ, suffering immense persecution, and more seriously, if they weren't telling the truth they were putting their souls in jeopardy with God by proclaiming the resurrection of one whom Jewish law states was accursed by God (Deuteronomy 21:23).  These disciples gave up many of the things that were foundational to their covenant relationship with God (circumcision, dietary laws, Sabbath keeping, sacrifices and temple worship etc.) because they believed all these things had found their fulfilment in the Messiah.  So if they didn't believe Jesus was living, they obviously didn't believe God was living either because they showed absolutely no fear of offending Him by preaching that Christ was risen, the Lord, the Son of God, and the only way of salvation.

One may wonder why God didn't vindicate Christ by miraculously delivering Him from dying, rather than delivering Him out of death.  If God had escorted Christ to heaven just before they nailed Him to the cross that surely would have been a wonderful vindication of who He really was.  Indeed, those surrounding the cross said that if Jesus is the Son of God, then God is sure to deliver Him (Matthew 27 v 43).  It would have been a wonderful vindication, but the point is, it would have left us still without hope of salvation.  Sin's penalty would have remained unpaid.  The Lord paid that penalty by His sacrificial death, and God raised Him from the dead to show the price was paid in full.

The truthfulness of Christianity is not a mere intellectual issue, it is an eternal issue.  That's why we need to humble ourselves and be prepared to go where the truth leads.  The truth will lead you to the pierced feet of the risen Son of God; be prepared to bow there, He will save you.