Archives For Apologetics

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the seriesThe Truth About Santa Claus

Santa Claus has been with us for many generations, but still there are those who deny his existence. More than 100 years ago, sweet little Virginia O’Hanlon, eight years old at the time, encountered some of these nonbelievers, which prompted her to write these famous words to the editor of the New York Sun:

Virginia O'Hanlon

Virginia O’Hanlon

Dear Editor: I am 8 years old.
Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
Papa says, “If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.”
Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?

The brilliant response from newspaper writer Francis Church has reportedly become the most frequently reprinted editorial of all time. He explains:

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little…

Francis Church

Francis Church

Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world…Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy…Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus…There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence.

Francis Church is rightly condemning the modern notion that we should only believe in those things which can be verified through the five senses. Indeed, the lack of legitimate “Santa sightings” is no reason to disbelieve in his existence. Church maintains a sense of wonder in our increasingly technologized world. Where would we be if our worldview left no room for mystery?

But we need to be careful about equating the kind of faith that can be directed toward Santa Claus and the kind of faith that Christians direct towards Jesus. Some would say that faith is faith—believing in Jesus is no different than believing in Santa. When Karl Marx referred to religion as “the opiate of the masses,” he had in mind the kind of faith that Francis Church has in Santa Claus: We can’t explain everything in this world, and none of us want to give up the joy of poetry, romance, and wonder, so why not believe in Santa if it makes life more bearable?

Santa ChimneyI am all for celebrating the magic and mystery of the world in fun ways (which is how I see Santa Claus). But we “believe” in Santa despite what we know, rather than because of it. No one ever looked at the night before Christmas and decided the best way to explain the gifts in the stockings and under the tree is a garish, overweight man in a red velvet suit flying in a sleigh and descending through every chimney in the world.

On the contrary, faith in Jesus is not despite the evidence. It is not blind faith. It is a faith that rests on the authority of what God has said, and then steps out into the real world and finds God’s words confirmed in every aspect of the world and the human experience. Faith in Jesus is more than a sense of romance and magic (though it is not less).

So celebrate Christmas with or without reference to Santa Claus, and never lose your sense of wonder in this unbelievable world. But don’t believe those who tell you that faith in Jesus is nothing more than a lie you tell yourself to make life a little happier, or to make your Christmas celebrations a little more religiously charged. God’s truth runs deeper than our five senses, but it is consistently confirmed by all of them.

Guilt-Based Evangelism

Mark Beuving —  December 4, 2012 — 1 Comment

PierMy wife and I were sitting on the pier in Pismo Beach when a sweet middle-aged woman slowly approached us. When she got close to us, I could see that her hands were trembling. Her voice was shaky as she gave us a pseudo-greeting: “Do you know Jesus?”

We smiled and said, yes, we do. She explained that her church was putting on some sort of evangelistic deal about Jesus and handed us a flier. We told her that we were only in town for the rest of the day so we wouldn’t be attending.

Then she paused. She seemed to be trying to think of more to say—she sensed her evangelistic task was not done—but nothing came. So we said our awkward goodbyes and she headed down the pier, where she proceeded to talk to a few other ocean-viewers.

I have done the same type of evangelism. I have done it on the same pier, in fact. When I was a college pastor, we used to host street (or pier) evangelism events where we would approach contemplative looking people and try to engage them in a conversation about the gospel.

Ray Comfort Street PreachingThis approach is not my favorite, but the approach really isn’t my concern. I know some very godly people who approach strangers and are sometimes able to engage them in genuine discussions. I don’t want to disparage their ministries in any way.

What concerns me is my attitude. I wasn’t hitting the pier because I was convinced this was the best way to reach people with the gospel. None of this matched my personality or gifting. I am more effective for the gospel through getting to know people and then letting the gospel come out as a part of that person getting to know who I am and what I’m about. And yet I took the salesman approach, not out of conviction, but out of guilt.

As I look back, most of us weren’t a good fit for this type of approach. But we did it because we felt like we would be cowards if we didn’t. You don’t want to look like a coward do you? You don’t want to appear to be ashamed of Jesus, right? So get out there and convert strangers using the physically present equivalent of cold calling. That’s what went through our minds.

But after several years of talking to Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses at my door, to say nothing of the regular salespeople I interact with, I’m convinced that the command to make disciples doesn’t need to be fulfilled using only this technique. Generally speaking, people don’t feel like opening up when they’ve been approached by a salesman (for more thoughts on the salesman approach, click here or here).

I have had sudden conversations about deep and controversial things, and I don’t try to avoid those opportunities when they arise. If this is how God is using you to make disciples, then fantastic. But if someone is giving you the impression that you’d better start talking to every stranger you can or else (even if that someone is you), don’t buy it.

Francis Schaeffer was so good at engaging people who would otherwise have been strangers and presenting the gospel to them in a compelling way. But he calls us away from doing this on the basis of guilt:

“As Jesus Christ reminds us, we are to love that individual ‘as ourselves.’ Therefore, to be engaged in personal ‘witness’ as a duty or because our Christian circle exerts a social pressure on us is to miss the whole point. The reason we do it is that the person before us is an image-bearer of God, and he is an individual who is unique in the world.”[1]

Notice that Schaeffer isn’t saying that we can’t share the gospel with someone we don’t know very well. He’s saying that the right time to share is when we truly love the person in front of us.

Of course, we could use that as an excuse. But don’t. Don’t let your lack of love keep you from sharing the gospel. When you find you don’t love someone enough to share, then repent and learn to love that person.

Let’s get beyond the guilt that we feel from others, impose on ourselves, or impose on others. And let’s learn to love. And then let’s boldly share and demonstrate the truth of the gospel in whatever way love leads us to in each moment. That might mean talking to a stranger you’re scared to talk to, but it might not.

 


[1] Francis A Schaeffer, The God Who Is There, 2nd Ed. (Downer’s Grove: IVP, 1982) 149.

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the seriesTwo Things No One Can Deny

Yesterday I wrote about the existence of the external world. This is something that every person has to wrestle with. We can’t deny the existence and the form of the world around us, though some have tried. Even those who deny the external world are still forced to live within it. This unflinching reality is an absolute that all people must take into account. They can believe what they want, but they still have to account for the world’s existence and form.

Vitruvian ManIn this post I will explore a second reality that no one can deny—a concept that Francis Schaeffer referred to as the “mannishness” of man. As ridiculous as that phrasing sounds, all Schaeffer was saying is that human beings are unique. We know we are. There’s something special about us, and we have to wrestle with what makes us special and why we can’t shake the feeling that we are somehow qualitatively different than the rest of the natural world.

As an example, take the human personality. What exactly is a personality? Why do we each have one? Why are we able to relate to one another in a personal way? If this world were nothing more than the product of time plus chance, then there would be absolutely no way to account for the existence of personality. There is simply no way to get something personal out of something impersonal. It doesn’t matter how much time you give it or how creative you believe chance to be.

Nor can personality be accounted for in a pantheistic worldview. If God is everything and everything is God, then God is ultimately impersonal. We may well believe that everything is connected, that we are all part of the “infinite everything,” but if we choose to believe this we are forfeiting any hope of explaining human personality. The best we can do here is believe that personality is an illusion that must be overcome.

Unless our worldview adequately explains the personality of mankind—his ability to relate personally with other personal beings, his ability to love, to show compassion, his moral motions, his will, etc.—then our worldview does not fit the world that exists.

From a Darwinian perspective, it has been said that personality can be accounted for in terms of survival of the fittest. People developed emotions because they saw that this would help them survive and master the other creatures. But this is a stretch. It is not at all clear that the first person to develop emotions would have an evolutionary advantage. In fact, if you developed compassion in a world in which no one else felt compassion, you would be at a huge disadvantage. If you developed the ability to love, but no other being on earth possessed the ability to love you in return, you would be digging yourself a whole. Personality simply cannot be accounted for in a Darwinian framework.

The Christian worldview, on the other hand, offers a satisfying explanation of the unique nature of humanity. This world began with a personal God, and this personal God created personal beings according to his image. Man is a created being like everything else in creation. But the Bible is clear that man is unique in that he alone is made in God’s image. This explains the indefinable qualities of human beings, and it perfectly explains the existence of personality.

As I said in yesterday’s post, this undeniable “mannishness” of man is on our side, working on our behalf in the minds of those we are reaching out to. We want them to see the world as it truly is. They can choose to believe in a non-Christian worldview, but they still have to live in the world that God made. This means that at every turn they are living in a world that was formed by the God of the Bible, and they find in themselves and in the people around them an undeniable quality that cannot be explained apart from the personal God who exists and lovingly formed them. They will attempt to suppress this truth (see Romans 1), but it will continue to fight its way into their consciousness, like a thorn in the brain that points them always to the Truth.

 

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the seriesTwo Things No One Can Deny

Francis Schaeffer liked to talk about two aspects of the human experience that every person has to wrestle with. These are constants—every person who has ever lived has encountered these two things. The first (which I will explore in this post) is the existence of the external world. The second (which I will explore tomorrow) is what Schaeffer referred to as “the mannishness of man.”

The World 2We live in the midst of a world. We can’t deny it. We keep bumping into it. It’s everywhere we look. Try as we might, we can’t see beyond it, nor can we quite manage to see it differently than it is, though we often try. We can’t get its smell out of our nostrils or its feel away from our nerve endings. It’s just there. Unavoidable. Undeniable.

Of course, people being what they are, some have tried to deny the existence of the external world. Or at least cast doubt upon its existence. Renee Descartes’ famous dictum “I think therefore I am” was the conclusion of his experiment of systematic doubt. How do I really know anything at all? How do I know I even exist? Could not my senses or some evil spirit be deceiving me about everything I’ve ever known? The only thing that Descartes could not doubt was the fact that he was doubting.

Some of the eastern religions teach that this world is nothing more than an illusion. The trick is to call it out and realize that all of the distinctions we make between individual objects (I am not you, you are not a tree, the land is not the sea) are misguided. These distinctions are illusions. So we must let go of the illusion of an external world and mindlessly meld with everything.

How do I know I exist? How do I know you’re not a figment of my imagination? We can certainly ask ourselves these questions.

But at the end of the day, we’re still living in the real world. Go ahead and believe that this world is an illusion. You still can’t escape it. You still have to follow the dictates of gravity. You still come into contact with real people. You still see things like beauty and understand things like truth. Believe what you want, but we all know—truly and deeply—that the external world is real.

Literally every thing points to the reality of the external world. As Christians, the inescapable reality of the external world works in our favor. We can have a discussion with a Buddhist, for example, about the whole world being an illusion. And we can try to convince him intellectually. He will argue against us, but then he must go about his day living as though this world is a real place. In other words, he can say what he wants, but at this point—if he wants to function in the world that exists—he must live inconsistently with regard to his stated beliefs.

Or talk to the person who denies the existence of a Creator. She will explain that the existence of God is improbable or even impossible. But then she has to face the fact that this world is here. Why should it be here? She can appeal to concepts like “deep time” and talk about what could happen when time and chance work together over billions of years, but still—something is here! Where did it come from? That question must persist like a thorn in the brain when the only available answer is, “Well, who knows what could happen when you give it enough time and chance?”

The beauty of this whole thing is that the God who gave us the gospel is also the God who fashioned the external world. And he knows what he’s talking about. So when we speak to people about the truth of the Christian worldview, we can have full confidence that our worldview matches the world that exists completely. No one else has this advantage. So we have both truth and reality on our side—both working together to point people to the truth and power of the gospel. But even more powerful than the existence of the external world is “the mannishness of man”—a concept  that we will explore tomorrow.

This entry is part 6 of 6 in the seriesCan You Trust Your Bible?

Bible 2In the previous five posts, we have been examining the historical circumstances under which the Bible was written and compiled. We have also been considering the reasons that we can be confident that the Bible is trustworthy.

But it is important to understand that our confidence in the Bible does not rest solely on historical evidence. Studying the historical evidence can be helpful and we can see God’s hand in the formation and preservation of his word. But in the end, no amount of historical evidence can dispel all of the uncertainty that we may feel.

In other words, historical studies are important, but they are not likely to prove conclusively which books should be considered part of the canon. So I am going to relate an argument that I picked up from John Frame as to how we can be sure of the Bible’s genuine authority.

John Frame believes that the Word of God is its own authority. Here’s the thing. If we claim that the Word of God is our highest authority, then we cannot appeal to some other source (a church council, historical data, etc.) as the ultimate validation of its authority. So Frame reasons from biblical concepts and statements in order to confirm our canon.

Think about this. From the inception of the nation of Israel, God’s people have always had a canon (a collection of authoritative writings) through which God has governed his people. Initially this was the Ten Commandments, then God added the whole Mosaic Law, then the book of Joshua, then the Writings, the Prophets, etc.

Moses and the Burning Bush (Domenico Feti)While no human being was permitted to add to it (Deut. 4:2, 12:32), God himself could, and he chose to add to the canon in specific ways at specific times. Not only did God give his people revelation, but he also providentially ensured that they would recognize this revelation as his words. For example, when Abraham was told to sacrifice Isaac, he didn’t have to wonder if the voice was God’s. He somehow knew. Or when Moses heard God speaking from the burning bush, he somehow knew that this was God speaking to him.

The same pattern holds true in the New Testament. The writers seem to have been aware that they were writing Scripture, and their words were accepted as the Word of God (see parts 3 and 4).

Frame also finds the purpose of God’s revelation significant: it was meant to create a covenant agreement with his people and to govern their lives. Basically, God spoke so that his people would hear and act. It is therefore inconceivable that God would give his people revelation and then allow that revelation to be lost. For these (and other) reasons, Frame believes that we can trust the canon we now possess.

Did you catch that? God has always possessed the ability to communicate with his people, and when God speaks, his people don’t have to wonder whether God was really speaking to them. They know the voice of God (John 10:27). And because God speaks to his people so that they will hear and act according to what he says, why would a God who is fully capable of effective communication allow his words to us to be lost or perverted?

We can be sure that our Bibles are the word of God because we have confidence in who God is and how he interacts with his people. Confirming evidence is always helpful, but ultimately the authority comes from God himself. If he wants to speak to us, then his authority will reside in the words he speaks. And that is exactly what we find when we open our Bibles. A loving, powerful, authoritative God speaking loving, powerful, authoritative words to his people.

And if God is speaking to us through his word, we would do well to listen and obey (2 Pet. 1:19, James 1:22).

 

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