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Did Jesus Exist? Non-Christian Sources and Historical Jesus Studies (Video)

Josephus

This blog is a transcript (not verbose) of the first session of Dr. Darrell Bock’s Credo Course, The Historical Jesus. You can buy the digital audio download for this course here.

Did Jesus Exist?

Welcome to this class on the historical Jesus. It’s my pleasure to be with you today and our goal is to walk you through a course on the historical Jesus, explain a little bit of its background where historical jesus studies came from, the roots of it, how it works, because it doesn’t work in a way that particularly many people in the church are used to. Is it born out of a skepticism? And then to deal with a look at particular key events, particularly through the lens of how a historical Jesus discussion might deal with it.

So to start to talk about the historical Jesus you’ve got to begin with asking a very basic question, “Did Jesus exist?”

And we start here because there are some people who claim that Jesus’ story is completely a myth, that he has no historical reality what so ever, and you see this popping up occasionally in the public square particularly around Christmas and Easter when we’re reminded of core Christian events such as the birth, and the death, and the resurrection of Jesus. And so this comes up sometimes as the idea that Jesus is a completely created, theological entity with no roots in history what so ever.

Non-Biblical Sources for the Existence of Jesus

A question I often like to ask my students is (I do this in entrance exams for doctoral studies occasionally), if I were to ask you to show me that Jesus existed and you could use the Bible, you couldn’t use the Old Testament, the New Testament, anything in between the testaments, nothing Christian, you can’t appeal to the Christian fathers, I’m taking away everything all at once, could you make a case for Jesus’ existence using non-biblical material?

[Tweet “Could you prove Jesus existed without using the Bible? #Apologetics”]

And that’s where we’re going to start and that’s where we’re going to begin.

Josephus

The first citation that tends to come up in relationship to Jesus’ existence is a citation from Josephus.

Josephus

Josephus is a first-century Jewish historian who actually, originally was a general in terms of his function. He fought for Israel against Rome initially in a place called Gamla. If you go to Gamla today it’s remains are still there. It was never rebuilt after the Romans overran it in 67 A.D.

The breach in the wall that looks like a kind of cut out cannonball out of the side of the wall is still there. You can march in to the city through that wall, through the breach in the wall. And one of the few remaining evidences of a synagogue in the first-century exists there. It’s an interesting site.

It’s located kind of up on a hill with a plateau area all around it and then hills on the edges so militarily it is a wonderful pearch to see what’s going on in a large area of the region.

Well Josephus was the general who’s job it was to defend Gomla and he was eventually captured by the Romans. He predicted that Vespasian would become emperor. Kind of viewed as a prophecy, the emperor took it as a prophecy when he did become emperor and so he thought very positively of Josephus; if this guy could predict that I’m going to be come emperor then he must be an OK guy. He took him into his house and Josephus wrote various works in defense of Judaism in the face of Gentile skepticism about Jews. And among those works (he wrote four work) one of them is his life his biography which basically the theme was what a great guy I am. The second work is Against Apion. It’s a defense of Judaism in the face of Gentile skepticism. He wrote a work called The War which was a description of the events leading up to the war with Rome. An attempt to explain that this wasn’t the fault of all Jews but a particular sect of Jews that were responsible for the problem. And then Antiquities which is a history of Israel literally starting from Genesis 1 and going up to his own life.

Well in Antiquities book 18 unit 63 and 64 there’s a citation about Jesus and the moment I read it you will understand why it is that this text, even though it exists, has been disputed. Here’s what the text says as we currently have it:

At this time there appeared Jesus a wise man if indeed one should call him a man[…]

That’s the first hint that this text has been played with. Everyone agrees that what we have today is not exactly all that Josephus wrote because of some of these differences. The idea of “if indeed one should call him a man” suggests that he might not be just human.

Josephus was not a Messianic Jew. He was Jewish through and through. He never converted to Jesus. And so, as a result, we know that would be unlikely to write something like that last phrase.

Anyway, picking up the citation:

[…]for he was a doer of startling deeds[…]

We’ll come back to this when we discuss miracles.

[…]a teacher of people who received the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following both among many Jews and among many of Greek origin. He was the Messiah.

The second part of the citation we don’t think goes back to Josephus. Because it’s a confession that Jesus was the Messiah of Israel.

And when Pilot because of an accusation made by leading men among us condemned him to the cross those who had loved him previously did not cease to do so[…]

And then the third injection into the citation that we think we have is:

[…]for he appeared to them on the third day living again just as the divine prophets had spoken of these and countless other wondrous things about him.

You can almost hear the Messiah, Handel’s Messiah going off in the background as he cites this portion in fulfillment of the resurrection and a declaration of the resurrection. That doesn’t go back to Josephus.

And up until this very day the tribe of Christians named after him has not died out.

And that’s the end of the citation.

Well what does it tell us? Extracting out those portions, those three portions that are very unlikely to go back to Josephus, we think the citation very much does take the outline of what remains. Namely, that there was a recognition that Jesus was a teacher of wisdom, that he was a doer of unusual deeds that got him attention, that he produced in his wake followers from the Jews and the Gentiles, that Pilot and the leading Jews were responsible for his crucifixion, and finally that Christianity (and those who are called Christians) emerged from his presence in the world as a result.

So this is an extra biblical citation from a first-century Jewish figure from whom we know more about the history of Israel in the first-century than almost any other source that we have, and he in the midst of going through this chapter this book 18 is a discussion of various people who disturbed the peace in Judea during the time of Pilot’s rule among others. And Jesus is one of the people who’s mentioned in this section. So that’s one reason we think Jesus existed.

Tacitus

But the Jewish testimony to this idea is not the only citation that we have. We also have a citation from Tacitus.

Tacitus

Tacitus wrote in a work called The Annals the following description of Christians and in the midst of it eludes to Jesus. Here’s his citation:

They [that is the Christians] got their name from Christ who was executed by sentence of the procreator Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius. That checked the pernicious superstition for a short time but it broke out afresh not only in Judea where the plague first arose but in Rome itself where all horrible and shameful things in the world collect and find a home.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement of Christianity or that which Jesus was responsible for founding. He calls Christianity a pernicious superstition. Whenever Romans didn’t like a particular religion they called it a superstition. He talks about it being a plague, he talks about Rome being the, how can I say this, the host of all kinds of horrible and shameful things. But in the midst of it all is the note that Christ was executed by the sentence of Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius. This is exactly where the New Testament has Jesus as well.

So this is part of a large discussion about Christians and particularly the great fire of Rome which Nero blamed on the Christians. And he goes on in this citation actually to note the amount of sympathy that was created for Christians as a result of Nero’s blaming the great fire of Rome on them and the kind of persecution that he put them under as a result.

So that’s the second citation from Tacitus that’s a Roman historian of the early second-century.

Suetonius

The third piece of evidence that we have comes from Suetonius. I always liked the way the great pastor W.A. Criswell pronounced the name of this historian. He didn’t say Suetonius he said Sweeeee-tonius. That’s S-w-e-e-e-e-e-t-o-n-i-u-s.

Suetonius

Suetonius also was a Roman historian of the early second-century. This citation is also controversial. It’s debated because he doesn’t refer to Christ but to Crestus. And so the question is has Suetonius erroneously referred to Christ by messing up his name or is this someone else? And so that is discussed among classical scholars. Although many classical scholars do accept that this testimony does talk about Jesus. Here’s what the citation says it’s short:

He expelled the Jews from Rome on account of the riots in which they were constantly indulging at the instigation of Crestus.

Now this is a very indirect allusion. It actually tells us nothing about the life of Jesus if it goes back to him. It simply connects the disturbances in Rome probably between Jews and Christians to the presence of belief in Christ (assuming that Crestus equals Christ) and that’s really all that we get. So there’s not much here. And that’s why whether it actually refers to Christ or not in the end doesn’t matter all that much because it doesn’t tell us all that much other than to point to the origins of the Christian group in Rome going back to Christ.

So those are our three citations.

Why Accept the Entire Josephus Citation?

I want to come back to the Josephus citation because it is an important text and mention one reason why some people do think this is an authentic text as opposed to being a total insertion into the Antiquities. There’s an allusion and a discussion of Jesus being the Christ in the text and later on in the same book, in book 18 (not unit 63 and 64 but unit 200) Josephus again alludes back to the Christ when he discusses the death of James, Jesus’ familial brother (technically half-brother if you’re a member of the Christian faith and believe in the virgin birth).

The point is that Josephus alludes to James and then he talks about the brother of the so-called or alleged Christ. Now this is further on down and the argument is that the allusion to the so-called Christ seems to presuppose a previous discussion where the issue of the Christ was raised in one way or another.

And people think that in the earlier citation (in the one discussing Jesus) rather than Josephus saying something like he was the Christ (as we have it now) he probably said, alluded, to the fact that Jesus claimed to be the Christ or that people believed that he was the Christ, something like that. And it sets up this later citation and is a later allusion back to this text. So the idea is you wouldn’t have this almost throw away line related to the Messiah unless there was an earlier discussion in the book of the Messianic claims associated with Jesus.

So that kind of wraps up our discussion up into a kind of nice bow and suggests why it is that we think Josephus actually said this about Jesus.

So in pulling this all together here’s what we have

  • We have a citation from Josephus a Jewish historian of the early first-century that points to Jesus as a wise teacher, a doer of unusual deeds, executed under Pontius Pilate by pressure that came also from the Jewish leadership and the founder of a movement that became Christianity with Jews and Gentiles participating in it—really a pretty full outline of kind of the most core elements of the story of Jesus.
  • And then we have the citation of Tacitus confirming or corroborating the fact that Jesus died under Pontius Pilate during the time of Tiberius.

So here are our core reasons for thinking that Jesus existed. Most scholars, almost without exception, accept the fact that Jesus existed. You can’t explain, it would be hard to explain where the christian movement came from without some historical catalyst for the origins of that movement. The likelihood that he would be a complete fabrication is not very credible at all. So almost all historians of any stripe whatsoever recognize that Jesus existed and that this testimony testifies to his existence.

Origins of Historical Jesus Studies

Born Out of Skepticism

So with that assumption in place we can now begin to raise the question, “Well what about the historical Jesus?” Where did that come from? So let’s talk a little about where this category comes from and why it exists and what makes it important, because it is a very important questions to raise. In fact, some people who are Christians dismiss the entire discussion of historical Jesus studies with the claim—which is actually quite true—that the historical Jesus study, the entire operation, the entire effort, the complete agenda, was born in skepticism. And that’s absolutely correct.

The reason you discuss the historical Jesus is because people say “How can we know if the real Jesus did ‘x’ even though the Bible says it?” So it’s born in skepticism. It’s designed to ask the question, “How can we know what’s in the Bible is so?” That’s the question it’s designed to deal with. So it deals with doubts about the accounts. It deals with doubts about the sources. It’s born in a complete skepticism.

Now the reason historical Jesus studies is important is because if you have a conversation with someone who doubts the contents of the Bible and you say “The Bible says…” what they will say back to you is “Well that’s the question. The Bible may say it but did it happen?” And in a world of skepticism where the Bible is not viewed as the answer but where the Bible is in fact in question, knowing how to discuss and bring forward rationale and reasons for why you think what the Bible says is true is actually an important conversion to engage in even in the face of skepticism. So this makes moving into this area almost kind of necessary. Particularly if you’re dealing with people who have doubts.

Presuppostionalism vs Evidentialism

Now, a form of apologetics called presuppositionalism will say “No what you do is you continually simply challenge the presuppositions of someone who doubts the scripture and present the Bible as the Word of God being true because it comes from God.” And from one perspective you can see how that very logically follows. If the Bible is the Word of God it has the authority of God who can, you know, adjudicate God? No one can.

So at one level you can see how this would work. But the other reality is that when you’re having a discussion with someone for whom revelation may not being a warrant (it may not be a reason to believe because they don’t believe in a God of they don’t believe that there’s such a thing a revelation) what are the things that you’re going to put on the table for people to discuss and to consider in order that they might open themselves up to consider who Jesus is, what he did and what he said?

This other approach to apologetics, sometimes called evidentialism, has it’s limits (and we’re going to be talking about that) but it also has value it dealing with someone who’s coming from a more skeptical frame of mind by really trying to give them pause and get them to think about the reasons and rationale that anyone would use (in some cases without some presuppositions) to consider the evidence for who it is that Jesus represents, what it is that Jesus represents, and who it is that he is. Those kinds of things.

So the historical Jesus approach is a flawed approach but it’s a necessary approach. It has difficult origins from the standpoint of someone who has faith, but it also has necessary origins because it kind of pushes you to see what you can corroborate about Jesus on standards that anyone might be willing to deal with and accept. And that’s always valuable when you can accomplish that kind of a goal.

Are Historical Jesus Studies Inherently Blasphemous?

So the apologetics question that rotates around historical Jesus studies is the question of, you know, is there evidence that we can put forward, is there a reason or a set of rationales, that we can put forward for at least taking some aspects of what we see in the Bible about Jesus as being corroborated in some other ways and being reflected on in some other ways?

So if we ask the question, perhaps a little more controversially, is the historical Jesus method inherently blasphemous (or an offense to God) in one sense, theologically, we might say, well yes it undercuts the belief in the idea that he speaks, that he exists, that there is word that he has given to people. That certainly is a challenge to the biblical worldview.

But on the flip side God is gracious, he tends to meet us where we are and to approach us in light of who we are and sometimes he meets us in the midst of our doubts, and in the midst of doing that the role of evidence in dealing with the historical Jesus is a very very important kind of conversation to have about Jesus. And the fact is that the kind of fact checking (if you want to think of it that way) that the historical Jesus studies has often done has issued in observations and in some cases corrections of our view of Jesus and where it comes from that sometimes are very healthy as people have made the Bible in some cases overreach what it says about Jesus.

So this kind of study has a very positive spinoff as part of the process that tries to make sense out of Jesus in his historical context and his historical background. And as we move through and turn later on in the course to discussing particular events and looking where it fits culturally, politically, socially in terms of what Jesus did and why he did certain things those elements and observations of background often have come to us through the kind of study that historical Jesus studies has engendered and has resulted in a positive for us.

So Why Study the Historical Jesus?

So the short answer to the question, “Why study the historical Jesus?” you study the historical Jesus, in part, to deal with the skepticism that some people have, their inherit distrust of scripture and to begin to get them to think about maybe that scripture actually is telling us something that we need to know about history. And does it matter? It obviously does matter in that kind of a context because it offers us another way to have conversations about Jesus with people who may have questions about Jesus, may have heard skeptical things said about Jesus that kind of thing. And so we need to be aware of that.

Do Historical Jesus Studies Have Limitations?

Does historical Jesus studies have its limitations? Absolutely.

The process of doing history is about probability it’s not about certainty. And because you’re dealing with events that are so displaced and are unrepeatable (this is not like science where you can do an experiment and repeat things), and because you’re dealing with only a handful of sources of what originally existed, you’re always dealing with limitations when you work historically in trying to determine something. And you’re always making judgments about your sources, about the cultural context, about the conflicts that come up and arise as you study those sources that kind of thing. This is not a slam dunk category of discussion.

I find myself often reacting to some of the things Christians do popularly as a result of thinking about this for example there’s a very famous apologetics book, very well known, it goes back to Josh McDowell, it’s a book I benefited from when I was growing up in the Lord, it still has a lot of usefulness in it, but the title of it is Evidence That Demands A Verdict. And the “demand” part of that does too much with what historical evidence does. It isn’t evidence that demands a verdict it’s evidence that calls for a verdict. It’s evidence that suggests a verdict. It’s evidence that points in a certain direction. But it doesn’t demand a verdict.

There are all kinds of issues and objections that come up that if you answer in a certain kind of way the evidence may not come together in the way in which it’s often presented in the context of Christian apologetics. So we’ve got to recognize the limitations of what it is that historical Jesus studies gives to us. And those limitations are rooted in the historical reconstruction process that anyone goes through writing a history of any period particularly an ancient period where the artifacts or the remains what we have of that history are very piecemeal, we don’t have the recordings like we do today. You’ve got to remember that in the first-century you know there were no computers, there was no printing press, there was no Xerox machine. None of that existed. Everything that was done was either written down on things like papyri or was passed on orally until it was recorded in one form or another. And so our ability to dig back into the past is always piecemeal and has to be reconstructed.

Conclusion

So here’s what we’ve said in this first session. We have said that Jesus existed, that Josephus, Tacitus, and perhaps Suetonius give us evidence for Jesus’ existence in sources that have absolutely nothing to do with the Bible: a Jewish historian, a Roman historian, are the sources for those remarks. They place Jesus in the first century. They place Jesus in a time when Pontius Pilat ruled in Israel. They place Jesus in a time when Tiberius was emperor. They place Jesus in a setting which drew Jew and Gentiles to a message that he gave that was both teaching on the one hand and unusual events on the others. That’s the first thing that we said.

The second thing that we’ve said is this, that historical Jesus studies is necessary in a world that has skeptical questions about the Bible. Yes, it’s a challenge on scripture. Yes, it doesn’t reflect a theological worldview. Yes, it was born in skepticism. But there still is value in trying to get over the bar that skepticism sometimes sets and to make the case for at least the core elements of what is associated with Jesus. In fact, that’s one of the things we’re going to see is that historical Jesus studies has the potential to actually corroborate some of the core things that we see about Jesus from just the standard kinds of ways that people would argue for any kind of event. That’s a helpful thing to be able to do for someone who has questions about the sourcing and the history of the development of the gospels.

And the last thing that we’ve said is that the nature of the historical pursuit itself is a reconstructive exercise that’s rooted in probability not certainty. You’ve got to understand the kind of investigation you’re engaged in and the way in which it works. You’ve got to be aware of what it’s able to give you and what it’s limits are. And we will be talking about this dimension of history as we talk about the historical Jesus all the way through the introductory part of the course as we’re setting up our discussion of how we’re going to look at the events of the life of Jesus.


Notes

You can read the first quote from Josephus here and the second quote here.

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How Can We Use Science and Philosophy to Argue That God Exists? (Video)

How Can We Argue that God Exists from Science is Religion and Science Are Opposed to Each Other?

Christians Can’t Argue That God Exists. Can They?

It’s commonly assumed that to believe in Christianity is to give up science and philosophy. Some Christians go beyond a mere personal belief and seek to convince others of the truth claims of their worldview. They want to argue that God exists. Can this be done? Wouldn’t one have to give up science and philosophy to argue for God?

How Can We Argue that God Exists from Science is Religion and Science Are Opposed to Each Other?

Dr. Doug Groothuis says no. In fact, he maintains that both science and philosophy can be used by the believer to argue for the existence of God. It must be admitted that some Christians debate about the validity of this approach. Some say that belief is purely a matter of faith and that to offer evidence or argument is to go contra-faith. Unbelievers say that Christianity destroys science and philosophy, and so using them to try and prove Christianity is impossible.

Watch this quick video or read the transcript below to get Dr. Groothuis perspective on this question. You can also grab his free video by clicking the graphic at the bottom of this blog post to hear him discuss the use of logic in apologetics.

Video Transcript

We can argue that in a variety of ways. You can argue from big bang cosmology that the universe began to exist a finite time ago and that’s best understood as “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” We’ve found that the universe is very carefully fine-tuned for life. The best explanation for that is that it was fine-tuned by a tuner. There’s a mind behind the universe.
At the microscopic level we’ve discovered the existence of molecular machine and the informational natural of DNA and so on. And those entities and processes are best understood, not as the result of unguided causes, but as the result of a designing mind.
So those are several areas that we can appeal to. That doesn’t, certainly, tell us everything we need to know about God. But it does dethrone atheism and pantheism as well. And it sets the table for further investigating Christian truth claims.
Free 28-min Vide on Apologetics

 

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How to Handle Apathy in Evangelistic Encounters (Video)

World Record Attempt at Apathy

Apathy and Whatever-ism

Apathy is the antipathy of substantive conversation. Deep conversations require at least two interested parties. In evangelism it can be challenging to convince someone that it’s important to have a discussion.This is true of any topic: politics, economics, religion, etc. What if the other person says, “Who cares?” Before a substantive discussion can take place, the illness of “whatever-ism” must be cured.

World Record Attempt at Apathy
World Record Attempt at Apathy

3 Ways to Cure Whatever-ism

Apathy and whatever-ism are manifestations of a “so what?” attitude. Overcoming apathy, therefore, means showing someone why they should care. Dr. Groothuis (professor of philosophy at Denver Seminary) has three ideas for how a lackadaisical attitude can be overcome:

  • Appeal to their sense of shame
  • Appeal to their sense of prudential self-interest
  • Pick the right environment

Video Transcript

Here’s what Dr. Groothuis said when we asked him how to handle someone who’s apathetic about God.

You certainly need to pray for insight, for discernment, for love of the other person. I think sometimes the apologist wants to hit someone over the head and say, “listen to my arguments!”

[Tweet “Sometimes the apologist wants to hit someone over the head and say, “listen to my arguments!””]

But I think you can appeal to people’s shame and say “Shouldn’t you pursue these ultimate questions in life? Why avoid them? Shouldn’t you think about this seriously, use your intelligence in this way?” And I think also you can raise the issue of prudence. If Christianity is true and you don’t come to Christ there are eternal consequences, very unpleasant consequences. If you come to Christ and Christianity is true there is tremendous fulfillment and reward. Now that’s not an argument to become a Christian per se. That is an argument to investigate the possibilities.

[Tweet “That’s not an argument to become a Christian per se. That is an argument to investigate…”]

I think another significant thing is to try to interact with people about apologetics in a calm, intellectually hospitably situation. Because part of the problem of indifference of whatever-ism is that people are over stimulated. Their mind is saturated with all kinds of things. They say, “Oh I don’t want to think about Christianity I’ll think about this and I’ll be involved with this. So an environment that’s quiet, that’s one-on-one, that’s relational, that’s intellectual, I think can help people take things more seriously.

free-28min-video-of-apologetics

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What’s the Best Apologetic Method? (Video)

Apologetic Method and Five Representative

Apologists love debating about apologetic method. In other words, they love debating about debating. If unbelievers are scarce, apologists turn to each other to sharpen their iron. Some take a casual approach to the discussion. Others see it as a matter of utmost importance.

[Tweet “Apologists love debating about apologetic method. In other words, they love debating about debating.”]

SPOILER ALERT: We won’t be settling the debate between evidentialism and presuppositionalism today.

Who Wants to Do Apologetics the Right Way?

Apologists hear bad argumentation and reasoning all the time. It’s part of the job, but they can get tried of it. Apologists are human too. Most of the time they’re arguing with unbelievers of one stripe or another. However, when the topic is apologetic method, it’s probably other apologists they’re interacting with. Fellow apologists hold each other to a pretty high standard. These are the people who should really care about the how of apologetics, right?

Apologetic Method and Five Representative

When the Argument over Apologetic Method Goes Too Far

It’s possible to get so caught up in the debate about apologetic method that we never actually do apologetics. This may make sense for the aged professor who’s already walked the walk and has the lumps to show for it. But the new apologist should be concerned with actually taking the message of the gospel to the streets as best they can. This allows them to learn from experience what works. Experience combined with theory can create a biblical and practical apologetic method.

Two objections spring to mind when arguing for experience over theoretical precision ad nauseam:

  • Does a person need to know how to do apologetics before they actually get out there and try?
  • Won’t a person do more harm than good if they don’t use the best apologetic method?

Being an Informed Practitioner

You must know how to do something before you can actually do it. This seems reasonable. But sometimes (in the debate over apologetic method), it gets carried too far. How far is too far? If you never get around to engaging in apologetics, you’ve probably gone too far.

Think of it this way. Many people have dreamed about writing a book. They know they don’t have the best grammar, spelling, or plot construction and should study up on these topics; otherwise their book will be a big mess. So they plan, study, wait, and plan some more. After a few years they’ve done a lot of planning and studying but still don’t have a book. They don’t even have a bad book; they have no book at all.

This is an example of taking things too far. Apologetics is both a science and an art. It’s like riding a bike, writing a book, or learning how to cook lasagna. It’s learned best by study and practice. Your first lasagna might not be fit for the family pet to eat, but you’re on your way. That’s what’s important.

[Tweet “Apologetics is both a science and an art. It’s like riding a bike, writing a book, or learning how to cook lasagna.”]

Using a Bad Apologetic Method Is Like Working With a Dull Axe

Do you think an apologist who doesn’t use the best apologetic method will do more harm than good? It all depends right? How wrong are they? Maybe they get the main idea right but are off on some of the details. If that’s the case, most of us will give them leeway (in Christineese this is called “grace”) for their error.

What if they get some of the main points wrong? We certainly don’t want to be so off base that we end up being an apologist for knowledge falsely so called.

Here’s the point though: disagreements over apologetic method do not fall into this category. The content of what we’re arguing for may (e.g. what is the gospel), but not the way in which we do apologetics. This isn’t to deny that there’s a “right” way to do apologetics. There certainly is. It’s more important to do apologetics than endlessly debate how to do apologetics.

[Tweet “It’s more important to *do* apologetics than endlessly debate *how to do* apologetics.”]

Take Your Pick of Evidence and Presuppositions

One of the hottest topics in apologetic method today is between evidentialism and presuppositionalism. Which school of though is right? I don’t think it matters. Good apologists use both.

Dr. William Lane Craig is one of the foremost Christian thinkers today. Dr. Craig presents arguments for God’s existence without talking about presuppositions at all. Of course, Dr. Craig has presuppositions. He just doesn’t start with them.

Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen is on the other end of the spectrum. Dr. Bahnsen was a student of Dr. Cornelius Van Til and popularizer of presuppositionalism. Dr. Bahnsen debated apologetic method with Dr. R.C. Sproul. In that debate Bahnsen admits that the transcendental arguments for God (TAG) is like a reformulation of more traditional arguments for God’s existence. Bahnsen doesn’t dismisses evidence. Far from it. In fact, he lectured extensively on the superiority of Christianity based on the evidence.

So take your pick. Start with evidence and go to presuppositions. Or you can start with your presuppositions and go to the evidence. Either way, you’re doing apologetics to the glory of God.

[Tweet “So take your pick. Start with evidence and go to presuppositions. Or you can start with your presuppositions and go to the evidence.”]

Video Transcript

When Dr. Doug Groothuis was asked what the best apologetic method is he gave the answer that served as the basis for this post.

Well, first of all, the best method is to do it, to get out there and do apologetics. But you do need a good foundation for it, and I’ve found that the best method is hypothesis testing—that is, the Christian worldview is a theory of everything, if you will, and we argue that several lines of evidence converge on Christian truth.

So we have evidence from science, evidence from philosophy, evidence from history for the historicity of the Bible. And you combine those arguments into an overall case that shows that Christianity is true; and it’s rational, very rational, compellingly rational to believe it. And you use those same kinds of tests concerning consistency and livability to other worldviews and try to show the weaknesses of those other worldviews.

Conclusion

I can’t put it any better than Dr. Groothuis: “The best apologetic method is to do it.” Don’t wait until you have all the kinks worked out of your system. Start today, even if that means defending Christianity in an Amazon product comment box. There are apologetic opportunities all around us.

free-28min-video-of-apologetics

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6 Ways NOT to Lose Your Christianity in the University Classroom (Video)

6 Ways NOT to Lose Your Christianity in the University Classroom

When you (or a son or daughter) go to college, will you lose your Christianity? The percentage of young people who abandon their faith while at college is debated. The numbers can be high depending on what research you look at. Ed Stetzer has written about this topic for Christianity Today. His work belies some of the hyperbole in this discussion[1]. I thank him for that.

While the numbers may not be as high as some have reported, Christians do face challenges to their faith at university. Parents don’t want their children to lose their Christianity, but they may not know what to do to prevent it.

6 Ways NOT to Lose Your Christianity in the University Classroom
Copyright: Frannyanne

Christians trying to remain faithful while at school may feel like they’re fighting uphill. In some respects this is just reflective of our culture, but I think there’s more to it. These battles are taking place during a liminal stage for the student. Merriam-Webster defines the word liminal this way: of, relating to, or being an intermediate state, phase, or condition[2]. From a psychological perspective, a liminal stage is one full of uncertainty and ambiguity. What better way to describe college? Can you imagine a more difficult time to try to answer life’s hardest questions?

Prepare to Lose Your Christianity

We’re concerned with how to prepare young people to handle objections to their faith. In 2009 Jim Warner Wallace (a former cold case detective) was interviewed by Lee Michaels and Jeff Shell. He said that we should present evidence to young people in much the same way you would to a jury[3]. These are young people who don’t accept the authority or credibility of the Bible. We’ve boiled down six specific steps students can take to prepare for college.

1. Study Worldviews

Life is lived in terms of “worldviews.” Ideas aren’t orphans and don’t exist in isolation. Worldview evaluation helps bring to light any internal inconsistencies one might have. First, believers should understand the Christian worldview. If they don’t understand what they believe, how can they truly have faith? Second, they should study the various non-christian worldviews. This may seem overwhelming, but it can be done. Worldviews can be grouped into categories and dealt with in bulk.

[Tweet “Life is lived in terms of “worldviews.” Ideas aren’t orphans and don’t exist in isolation. “]

2. Get Perspective

College lasts for a short time. It’s busy and often confusing. It may feel like you have to come to definite conclusions, but you don’t. Christianity has a historical pedigree that cannot be destroyed by a few college credits. College is not a panacea of truth. Once it’s over, life’s toughest questions will remain. You’ll have to answer them over and over again, even if only in your own thoughts.

[Tweet “Christianity has a historical pedigree that cannot be destroyed by a few college credits.”]

3. Pursue Truth

There is no dichotomy between education and Christianity. Christianity is the only worldview that can sustain a positive outlook on knowledge. Don’t fear truth. Truth will always lead to a deeper and more accurate faith. Believers may feel a tension between following the truth and what their faith tells them. However, the Christian worldview is lead by one who identified himself as “truth” itself. It is impossible that truth (properly understood) will lead away from God. So, pursue truth with courage in your heart and Christ in your sights.

[Tweet “There is no dichotomy between education and Christianity. Christianity is the only worldview that can sustain a positive outlook on knowledge.”]

4. Take a Stand

When I taught computer networking, I enjoyed when students asked questions or challenged me. It showed me that they were thinking. I don’t doubt some professors are authoritarian. Some may brook no dissension. That’s when courage is needed. Taking a stand for what you believe is one of the quickest ways to mature.

Rows of Chairs in a Laboratory Classroom
Harris and Ewing Collection in the Library of Congress

[Tweet “Taking a stand for what you believe is one of the quickest ways to mature.”]

5. Join a Church

Being a “lone wolf” may work in your favorite action movie, but as a strategy for life, it’s a bad bet. Christianity should be practiced in community. The members of the body of Christ help to balance each other out. Even students at a religious university can benefit from local church membership. Churches in a college town know to expect a flood of new and returning students each year. They may even have classes and programs designed around students’ busy schedules.

[Tweet “Being a “lone wolf” may work in your favorite action movie, but as a strategy for life, it’s a bad bet.”]

6. Be Humble

Humility is necessary in the pursuit of truth. This isn’t in contradiction to the fourth point above (Take a Stand). It’s the flip side of the coin. Humility and courage go hand in hand. Your beliefs and convictions may be challenged. Fellow students, professors, even the curriculum itself may make you uncomfortable. You won’t always be right. Pick your battles. Be willing to admit if you’re wrong. Refusing to give up faulty ground only makes you king of an imaginary hill.

[Tweet “Refusing to give up faulty ground only makes you king of an imaginary hill.”]

A Professor’s Perspective

Dr. Groothuis has worked for years in campus ministry. Now he’s the professor at Denver Seminary. I asked Dr. Douglas Groothuis, “How should we prepare young people for challenges to their faith in college?” This is what he said.

Video Transcript

Apologetics and Christian worldview and knowledge of the Bible should be taught in the home; and it should be taught rigorously in the church; and students going to college should be involved in classroom activity/classroom instruction to prepare them for the kind of onslaught that they’ll have to deal with, prepare them for the atheism, prepare them for the relativism, and so on.

This is very exigent because the statistics I’ve seen are pretty frightening and disheartening. So many Christians go to college and either deny their faith or put their faith on hold, and they don’t act like consistent Christians. Maybe ten years later when they have children they’ll go back to the church and get more serious. But the university and college shapes an individual decisively for life.

So Christians need to know what they believe and why as they go into these settings. So the church should have courses, study opportunities to prepare for college, parents should know what sorts of things their children should read and what kinds of seminars they should go to. And this needs to be very intentional, very serious because, otherwise, the students will very likely drift away from Christianity or become fideists and say, “I believe Christianity but it is not supported by anything I study and there’s really no evidence for it but somehow I believe it.” We don’t want that.

free-28min-video-of-apologetics


  1. Stetzer, Ed. “Dropouts and Disciples: How Many Students Are Really Leaving the Church?” Christianity Today. May 14, 2014. Accessed March 5, 2015. http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/may/dropouts-and-disciples-how-many-students-are-really-leaving.html.  ↩
  2. Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 2003.  ↩
  3. Wallace, Jim W. “How to Help Young People Learn to Defend the Faith.” Interview by Lee Michaels and Jeff Shell. The Cold-Case Christianity Radio Interview Podcast (audio blog), September 14, 2009. Accessed March 6, 2015. http://thepleaseconvincemeradioshowpodcast.libsyn.com/how-to-help-young-people-learn-to-defend-the-faith.  ↩
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Mistakes A Brand New Apologist Usually Makes (Video)

Three Behaviors for the New Apologist to Avoid

The Man Who Wrote the Book (Literally)

Dr. Douglas Groothuis invested around eight years writing Christian Apologetics. At 752 pages it is a massive treatment. [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]In fact, the good doctor acknowledged that the hardback version could double as a weapon.[/inlinetweet] Both old and new apologists can benefit from reading this volume.

Dr. Groothuis was in campus ministry for many years and holds two degrees:

  • M.A. in philosophy from the University of Wisconsin
  • Ph.D in philosophy from the University of Oregon

What Are Some Common Pitfalls a New Apologist Should Avoid?

 

 

Quick Tips for the New Apologist

  • Love: [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]Apologetics is about honoring Christ as Lord first.[/inlinetweet] We should also show respect for those we proclaim the gospel to. Newcomers sometimes miss this and come off as only caring about winning arguments.
  • Listen: Dr. Groothuis recommends a calm environment for apologetics. Busy and distraction prone settings make it difficult to listen and communicate. Good listening is like the first step in the phrase: ready, aim, fire.
  • Learn: [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]Whether an apologetical encounter is good or bad, there’s always something to learn.[/inlinetweet]

 

Three Behaviors for the New Apologist to Practice
Three Behaviors for the New Apologist to Practice

 

Getting Caught Up in the Apologetical Moment

Discussing ideas that will effect someone’s eternity comes with a lot of responsibility. This is good. Our concern for God’s glory and the souls of others should weigh on us. This responsibility can make us feel excited and even nervous. This is especially common for new apologists. You may recognize some of these physical, emotional, and mental warning signs:

  • Uneven breathing, clammy palms, and a racing heart
  • Nervous laughter
  • An over eagerness to speak and an inability to hear what the other person is saying
  • Facial expressions that don’t match the conversation
  • Shuffling feet, shaking hands, and twitching eyelids
  • Asking questions like a lawyer (e.g. leading the witness)
  • One arm that’s longer than the other from carrying a bullhorn
  • Using Christian terms with a non-christian audience without providing explanations

An experienced apologist is hard to pick out of a crowd (unless they’re addressing the crowd). Their evenness of tone and measured responses don’t stand out. They look just like anyone else engaged in conversation. This isn’t because they’re ambivalent. They’ve simply learned how to be measured in their interactions.

Evangelism With A Loving Heart

[inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]Evangelism should flow from a loving heart. If it isn’t love that motivates us, we’re liable to fall into the trap of pragmatism.[/inlinetweet] Emotion is a powerful way to exert influence on someone. Sometimes it’s the easiest way, but it isn’t loving to focus on just the emotion and leave the will and mind to fend for themselves. The greatest commandment enjoins us all to be well rounded Christians:

And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.

— Matthew 12:30 (ESV)

Winning arguments is certainly a part of apologetics, but it can’t be the end goal. It’s possible to win every argument by sheer force of will and not glorify God at all. The end goal (as with all things in the Christian life) should be the glory of God. To the extent that winning an argument accomplishes that end, it’s good.

Video Transcript

I think someone who has just gotten the apologetics bug and is interested in arguments and so on can be insensitive to others such that the person doesn’t listen to other people (just dumps apologetics on their head).

And good apologetics, virtuous Christian witness, always involves loving and caring for the other person, listening to the other person, interacting, trying to figure out what the other person’s worldview is and what their life experiences are. And then your knowledge of defending Christianity as true, rational, and pertinent comes out through the dialogue and through a loving exchange.

Apologetics is not about defeating other people’s arguments. Now you want to win arguments. I’m a philosopher. I always want to win arguments. But I don’t want to win arguments on the cheek, on the cheap rather. I don’t want to just intimidate people and browbeat them. I want to give good reasons, make sure the other person understands, be able to take the criticisms that that person has of my worldview.

So what I’m saying is, we want to develop a deep truth seeking dialogue with others that will draw out what we know and furthermore reveal what we kn… we don’t know. So we need to be humble. And humble doesn’t mean, “I don’t really know what I believe or why, but let me tell you my opinion.” That’s ignorance. But we need to be humble in terms of loving others, not putting ourselves first, and to be willing to be corrected. And if we know something that’s significant, and we have some good arguments, be thankful to God, the giver of every good and perfect gift, that He has made those known to us.

Feedback

What about you? What’s your story? Did you go through some of these stages as a new apologist? Did it go well? What did you learn? Comment below and start the conversation.

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Why Should We Trust the Bible? (Video)

Why Should We Trust the Bible?

The Bible

The Bible is the most well attested ancient document of any religion. That’s not just hype. Both Christian and non-Christian scholars agree that [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]the Bible has more manuscript support than any other book of antiquity[/inlinetweet]. However, just because a book was copied a lot in the past doesn’t mean we can trust it. Does it?

Why Should We Trust the Bible?

In September of 2014, Dr. Douglas Groothuis visited Credo House in Edmond OK. Over the course of three days he recorded 30 lectures for his course Christian Apologetics 101.

When we finished filming the course itself, we sat down with Dr. Groothuis to ask him some of the most common questions apologist are asked and are asking.

Video Transcript

Well, the basic point is that the Bible is historically reliable. It’s not full of myths and legends. It gives a unified worldview. It provides meaning for every area of life. And we don’t have to take some blind leap of faith to believe that.

[inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]The Bible is well substantiated by the evidence of history and also by the evidence of science and philosophy[/inlinetweet] because there is good independent reason to believe there is a creator/designer, God. The Bible affirms that. And in fact, given the human condition (the fact that we have guilt) the Bible explains that as the result of sin, and Christ provides the answer to that problem. It’s very clearly and systematically laid out in Scripture.

So in the course, I develop a much richer more detailed argument for why we should trust the Bible; but it stands alone with respect to all the other holy books in the world’s religion as very well confirmed/verified, deeply enmeshed in history, and therefore something real that we can relate to and understand.

Feedback

What do you think about what Dr. Groothuis said? Does what he said make sense, or is it flawed? Because the Bible is so central to the Christian religion, it’s veracity is of upmost importance.

Voice your opinion in the comments section below.

free-28min-video-of-apologetics